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Somerset Speedway -v- Sheffield: SGB Championship

 

With the start of the Play-Offs just over a month away, Garry May’s instructions for his ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels septet were straight forward and simple, to beat the Sheffield Tigers and by enough to prevent them taking an away point from the fixture.

Both teams came into this encounter at full strength, which on the visitor’s side saw the return of Todd Kurtz to the Oaktree Arena, for the first time since he was released by the Rebels. On the track prep side of the equation, the Somerset track curator and his team had done a fantastic job of producing a racing surface fit for the occasion and one that prompted Nick Morris, in a post-meeting interview, to state that it was the best prepared Somerset track he had raced on in years and from the racing that was witnessed, it was certainly an accurate assessment.

The meeting got underway in one of the worst possible ways for the visitors as their ‘Number One’, Danny King, ploughed through the tapes and had to start on a 15-metre handicap. In the restart, the Tigers mitigated their ill fortune when Josh MacDonald, recently promoted to the main body of the team, flashed from the traps to lead up from Anders Rowe. Morris, who missed the start, powered by Rowe down the back straight to close up on MacDonald and at the same time King was on the chase for Rowe’s back wheel. Morris was soon on his young fellow countryman, as he charged around the fence line. King was also close up and all four riders were within easy reach of each other. The two experienced riders were trying all they knew to pass the young guns but it was the youngsters who had the day, as MacDonald held off a big late run from Morris, whilst Rowe did likewise to deny King third place.

The Tigers were more fortunate in the next heat, where Drew Kemp and Zaine Kennedy took maximum points but not before Kennedy had been pulled back and received a warning for moving in the original start. The re-run of Heat 2 saw both Kemp and Kennedy swiftly away, with Kemp leading at the turn. Nathan Stoneman came flying down the back straight and was virtually upsides Kennedy, as they ran to the third bend and looked as though he might take up the chase on Kemp, until Kennedy unceremoniously slammed the door shut in his face, moving Stoneman out to the fence in a very hard move. That manoeuvre sealed the deal for the visitors, as Stoneman had to come out of the throttle and lose momentum, which he couldn’t fully recover from as Kemp and Kennedy pulled away to a comfortable ‘Full House’.

It took three starts to get Heat 3 fully underway, with the first two attempts being pulled back for movement at the start by Todd Kurtz. Inevitably, having been warned for the first infringement, Kurtz was excluded for the second one, and Zaine Kennedy was sent out to take his place. When the race finally got underway, at the seventh start attempt in just three heats, it was Nico Covatti who contested the lead to the bend with Kennedy, who then clamped Covatti to the kerb to take the lead. If Kennedy thought that he had done enough, he figured without Rory Schlein, who had made a mediocre start. Schlein came barrelling down the back straight, moving first past his teammate to take up the chase. Slowly but surely he reeled in the young Queenslander, until they ran onto the third lap, where he caught Kennedy as they ran down the back straight and with a wide outside run in the dirt, he completed the pass as they came off the final curve of the lap, before going on to take the chequered flag a lap later. With Covatti holding third, the Rebels cut the Tigers lead by 2-points.

The Tigers quickly reinstated their four-point advantage; taking the following heat by the same margin the Rebels had taken the previous one. Kyle Howarth flashed from the gate to lead up by a huge margin, so much so that many expected a recall but referee Chris Gay was completely satisfied that it was a perfectly legal start, so the race was on. Chris Harris was slow off the line and trailed Howarth and Drew Kemp to the turn. Harris moved to the wide line to chase down Kemp but try as he might he couldn’t find a route by the U19 British Champion. As they approached the final bend of the second lap, Harris made a neat cut back to get under Kemp, before going on the head the youngster as they ran into the next circuit. With Nathan Stoneman not getting in the hunt and Howarth in the wind, the visitors restored their lead.

The Tigers lead was short-lived, when the Rebels levelled the match in unusual circumstances in Heat 5. There was nothing untoward in the initial stages, as Rory Schlein and Danny King broke quickly, with Schlein taking the early advantage from King and Josh MacDonald. Nico Covatti made a superb move as the field exited the second bend, carving through the Tigers pairing to put the Rebels on a 5-1. King quickly retaliated, sweeping by Covatti as they departed the final curve of the lap. King chased Schlein but was not making too much of an impression, when he suddenly raised a hand and slowed dramatically as they ran to the line, with one circuit remaining, apparently thinking he had seen the red lights. Covatti was quick to take advantage, powering by before the first turn to move into second place. King realised his error and powered back up but the damage was done and the Rebels took maximum advantage, with King crossing the finishing line, in third, gesticulating at the referee’s box, before appearing to berate himself as he entered the pits.

Sheffield briefly took back the lead in Heat 6, with Kyle Howarth making another great start to get over the top of Nick Morris in the bend. As the lap closed, Zaine Kennedy threw in a bid to steal second place away from Morris but his inside move was repelled by the Rebels man. Morris then closed down Howarth and the duo were engaged in a tight battle for the rest of the race, with Howarth having to put in some strong resistance to keep Morris at bay. Meanwhile, Anders Rowe was applying similar pressure to Kennedy as he made a bid for third place. It was difficult to know where to look, as there was action throughout the field. Eventually, time ran out for the Rebels pairing as the Tigers twosome held their respective challengers at bay to record a 4-2 advantage.

As the tapes rose on Heat 7 Chris Harris got the best start, leading before the first turn, with Todd Kurtz in pursuit. Next, up was Luke Harris, with Justin Sedgmen getting no further than the start line, as his machine steadfastly refused to move at the tape rise. Harris looked to have the race well under control, despite the proximity of Kurtz in second place but as they ran on to the final circuit, Kurtz appeared to quickly close down on Harris and a lap later he was throwing it out in the dirt to find a way to the front from a clearly slowing Harris. Harris somehow managed to keep it all together, even holding off a big run through the final turn by Kurtz. After the flag, Harris got no further than the second bend before coming to a halt, with what many thought to be an engine problem. However, after the meeting, he confirmed that the actual problem was a puncture, caused by a broken spoke going through the inner tube.

The scores were now level again and remained so through the next heat. With the way the races had been going, Heat 8, to many observers, looked a nailed on maximum for the visitors, who tracked Josh MacDonald and Drew Kemp but Anders Rowe wasn’t one of them, he had other ideas. Whilst Kemp was quickly away, leading up the Rebels pairing, Rowe made a fabulous outside run around the opening turns and down the back straight, blowing past Kemp and Nathan Stoneman to take up the lead before Bend 3. MacDonald was slowly away but soon got into his stride and whilst Rowe was away and gone at the front, MacDonald was soon carving his way through the field, first passing Stoneman and then Kemp, before the lap closed. However, Rowe was not going to be so easy and had plenty in hand to comfortably see off anything MacDonald could throw at him and come home to rising cheers of the Rebels fans as the points were shared. Most matches will have a turning point or a race that has a big influence on the potential result, and Heat 8 could very well have been one of those.

Another significant heat followed, with Heat 9 being called back as both Kyle Howarth off gate one, and Nico Covatti off gate two got a terrific start. As the riders came back to the pit gate, the referee gave Covatti a warning and excluded Howarth for touching the tapes. The decision caused a certain amount of consternation with Howarth and the Sheffield camp, who claimed he had not touched the tapes, and there was quite a long delay whilst Chris Gay asked for a review of the video recording of the start. After reviewing the recording of the incident he confirmed his original ruling, stating that it clearly showed that Howarth had touched the tapes and the exclusion stood. Rather than send Howarth off 15-metres, Simon Stead sent Drew Kemp in his place.

At the Re-start Kemp blasted from the gate, leading at the first bend from Covatti and Rory Schlein close up. With Kemp still leading, the field approached the third turn. Schlein and Covatti closed quickly and swept past Kemp, one either side, as they entered the turn. From the start of the next lap, the Rebels pair pulled out a good lead and came home unchallenged from Kemp and Zaine Kennedy to record a second home maximum on the night, giving them the lead for the first time in the tie.

There followed a run of five shared heats, with the home side providing four of the heat winners, to set up a last heat decider. Heat 10 saw Todd Kurtz and Justin Sedgmen trap out to a lead before the turn. Coming off the second turn, Nick Morris made a stunning pass on the Tigers pair, slicing straight through the middle of them to sweep into the lead. Over the second lap, with Morris well out in the lead, Anders Rowe closed right up on Sedgmen. all through the closing laps, he was all over the back of Sedgmen, trying to force the opening, working the outside line and then cutting back up the inside, pressing the Tigers man from all angles. In the end, he ran out of time, with Sedgmen holding him off to the flag. Despite not scoring in the race, it was a fantastic ride by Rowe and one that he probably wouldn’t have put in before his elevation to the main body of the team. Since moving up, he has come out of his shell and is and thumbing his nose at all those who wrote him off as unable to cope with the main body slot. He’s now started to explore parts of the track he would never have ventured into in his days in the reserve birth.

With his puncture problems solved, Chris Harris made the best use of gate one, with a rocket start to lead Danny King before the first curve, pulling out a small lead over the first lap, which he was not to lose. Luke Harris was buzzing around the back of Josh MacDonald throughout lap two, pressing him hard all the way. On the next lap, his persistence paid dividends, as MacDonald made an error, locking up on the second turn. Luke Harris moved quickly through to grab third place but MacDonald rapidly recovered and was back through on the next bend.

In Heat 12, Rory Schlein overcame a huge lift off the line to lead the field before the bend but his early misfortune gave Todd Kurtz the chance to deliver a challenge as they ran through the third turn. His effort was not rewarded with Schlein fighting him off. It proved to be the only chance that the former Rebel had, as Schlein pulled away with every passing lap to take the win. Whilst Schlein was making the best of his way home, Nathan Stoneman was putting in a hard chase on Zaine Kennedy at the rear. Stoneman never let up the chase but couldn’t find a way to make a significant challenge on Kennedy.

Heat 13 proved to be a humdinger of a race, with the whole field swapping places all the way through. Danny King made a swift exit from the tapes, with Nick Morris and Kyle Howarth giving chase. Morris moved out wide on the turn and Howarth immediately took advantage, storming through the inside. His occupation of second lasted no longer than the back straight, where Morris and Chris Harris swept either side of him to demote him to the rear. Morris was soon on King and the pair raced close together, often wheel-to-wheel, with Harris not far away. It was difficult at times to tell who was in front, with no more than the width of a tyre separating them on occasions. As the race came into the last two laps, the pair were tight up against the air fence and just inches apart, with King just holding off Morris. Coming into the final turn, Morris put in a big run around the outside and as the pair flashed over the line, it was King, by mere inches who had taken the flag first and the exhalation of breath from the crowd was almost palpable.

Garry May switched his reserves in Heat 14, bringing in Nathan Stoneman for Luke Harris, and the move almost brought the Rebels the match, there and then. Justin Sedgmen probably made his best start of the night as he led Nico Covatti away from the line and into the first bend, with Drew Kemp close up. Kemp threw in his bid for second place as he negotiated the opening bends but Covatti had him covered. As they reached the third turn, Stoneman made a neat inside move to demote Kemp to last place, whilst Covatti closed in on Sedgmen. Covatti moved into the lead as the riders entered the home straight to run back to the line to start the second lap. As Covatti moved clear of his rival, Stoneman looked to have third place in the bank to give the Rebels an unassailable lead but disaster struck for the young Welshman when he locked up at the second turn of Lap 3 giving Kemp a chance to move up, which he readily accepted. Stoneman made a quick recovery but the damage was done and despite a spirited chase he couldn’t get back on terms with the Sheffield man, leaving the scores at 44-40 to the home side.

The Rebels were almost over the line as the last heat decider loomed. Garry May sent out his two top men, Nick Morris accompanied by the unbeaten Rory Schlein, to bring the match home. For his part, Simon Stead fielded Kyle Howarth and Danny King, off gates one and three respectively, in his attempt to salvage a point from the encounter. Howarth bolted from the traps to lead up with Morris pressing hard. King then came on the scene driving into second place through the opening turns to give Sheffield sight of an away point. The vision quickly faded as both Rebels flew by into bend three, going either side of him. Morris took up the chase on Howarth, harrying him throughout the second lap, throwing in an unsuccessful challenge on his outside. Morris persevered and sailed by Howarth on the outside line through the third bend of the penultimate lap. Meanwhile, Schlein was charging around the inside line, closing Howarth down with each turn of his wheels. As they ran to the back straight, with the cheers of the Somerset fans rising to a crescendo, he was through the inner to join Morris at the front and as they ran to the line he just edged in front to take a full five ride maximum, celebrating as he went. The resulting 5-1 gave the Rebels a 49-41 victory, denying the Tigers the away point. Some observers thought that Morris had deliberately slowed to allow Schlein his maximum but in truth, he suffered a puncture on the final lap and was nursing it home.

The Tigers made it tough at the in the early stages but didn’t help their cause with some undisciplined start line procedures, mainly by their senior riders. It cost them in the first half of the match but they still held the lead until Heat 6 and it wasn’t until Heat 9 that the Rebels started to control the matchup. Sheffield's problems were illustrated by the fact that Drew Kemp, who put in a sterling performance at reserve, was their top scorer, with a superb 7+2, whilst the best of the rest was skipper Kyle Howarth with 7-points.

On the home side of the fence, the reserves may have been outpointed by their opponents on this occasion; but the rest of the team took up the slack. Rory Schlein put in a magnificent unbeaten run of five races for his 15-point full maximum, a feat that was celebrated by a round of ‘The Bumps’ by his teammates, he was ably supported by Nick Morris with 11+1, Chris Harris with 9+1, Nico Covatti with 8+2 and Anders Rowe, who posted a 4+1. Rowe’s score may look, on the face of it, as not noteworthy but in included a vital heat win at a crucial point in the match and also didn’t reflect how well he had ridden all night, giving established riders a run for their money and was unlucky not to add significantly to his score. Nick Morris took the Somerset ‘Rider of the Night; Award, chosen and presented by the meeting sponsors, Towens of Weston-Super-Mare.

In truth, all seven riders rode superbly well and were a credit to the club and a testament to Garry May’s management style and determination. May has made some hard decisions this season, all taken for the benefit of the club. In some quarters he has been roundly criticised for his changes but he’s never shied away from doing what he sees as best for Somerset Speedway. If that means dropping a popular rider then so be it and on that score, his record speaks for itself with over a dozen major trophies since taking over the reins at the club.

The ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels next action will be on the road at Leicester on Saturday night (24th August) and will be without the services of skipper Chris Harris, who will be in Gorican, Croatia, competing in the FIM SGP Challenge. His place will be taken by Steve Worrall, whom Garry May has signed as a guest. The next home fixture will be Wednesday 28th August, when Edinburgh will provide the opposition and will include another former Rebel in their line up in the shape of Sam Masters.

Reported by:
Dave Thompson


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