Friday May 19, 2017
With no meeting at the Oaktree Arena since May 5th, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all was quiet in the ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels camp, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The action had move from the track to behind the scenes, as Garry May had the scalpel in hand and was carrying out major surgery on the team after a stuttering start to the home league season. Having won the first home league match against the powerful Poole Pirates, the Rebels had suffered three successive narrow home defeats, a situation that May and the promotion felt they couldn’t allow to continue.

Those on the receiving end of the cuts were, Rohan Tungate who, despite a match winning performance in the Rebels away victory at Bell Vue, was struggling to recapture anything like his form of last season, Paul Starke’s, whose problems appeared to be mainly mechanical, causing him to be unable to bring his good Championship form, with Peterborough, to the Premiership, and Jan Graversen, who in truth became an unfortunate victim of the Speedway numbers game. In place of the outgoing trio, May brought in Richard Lawson, Lewis Kerr and the in form Cameron Heeps, but would it do the trick?

The time to prove the team changes were the right thing to do had come, when on Friday evening the Rebels ‘Old Enemy’, the Rye House Rockets were in town, with a powerful heat leader trio, that would surely test the Rebels new septet to the full. On top of Edward Kennet, and former GP riders and multiple British Champions, Scott Nicholls and Chris Harris, the Rockets tracked Rory Schlein, in place of the absent Ricky Wells. Schlein had been part of the Rebels last visitors, Wolverhampton, and on that occasion had proved almost unbeatable, top scoring with 11pts. Injury victim Ellis Perks was replaced by Mark Baseby. For the Rebels, Charles Wright was missing, having fallen the night before, whilst riding for Redcar in the Championship. His absence was covered by the Rider Replacement facility.

Despite torrential rain in most other parts of the region, the Oaktree Arena was bathed in sunshine, but that didn’t do anything to improve the quietly nervous mood that could be felt around the stadium as the first race came to tapes. The mood vastly improved, as Josh Grajczonek and Lewis Kerr blazed from the gate to lead up to the turn, leaving Rockets stalwarts, Edward Kennett and Stuart Robson floundering in their wake, as Grajczonek came round Kennett in the turn, to allow Kerr an unhindered inside run to the second bend. Once there it was pretty much plain sailing, with the Rebels skipper blazing to the fastest time of the season by more than a second, in 56.06sec. Kerr held off a tentative challenge by Kennett, and it was job done, with a ‘Full House’ to open the account.

On the completion of the next heat the mood around the arena was in positive party mode, when Jake Allen and Cameron Heeps led from the start to completely dominate the Rockets pairing of Rob Branford and Mark Baseby. Once the pair had beaten off a second bend challenge from Branford, they were away and gone, with Allen leading the way and Heeps pulling some awesome shapes behind him, as the pair took the Rebels 8-points clear.

Allen was quickly back on track, taking the Replacement ride in Heat 3. As the tapes rose it appeared that the Rockets might pull back four points from their deficit, as Chris Harris and Rory Schlein hit the front early and led to the turn. The Rebels pair were not far away, and it was only a strong move by Schlein, forcing Jake Allen very wide in the opening curves, which prevented that situation changing. Having said that, the maximum advantage was short lived, as Richard Lawson went by Schlein on the run into the third bend, and set off after Harris. Whilst trying to run down Harris, Lawson was pursued by Schlein, and rode a great race to not only close on the leader, but also hold off the challenging Schlein at the same time, and keep the Rockets win to the minimum amount.

The Rebels restored their 8-point lead in the next heat, with Cameron Heeps hitting the front before the turn. His lead was short lived, as Scott Nicholls headed him inside the second turn, having blocked out Patrick Hougaard in the first bend. Heeps was not taking the pass lying down, and blasted down the back straight in pursuit, before executing a stunning outside pass on the seven times British Champion in the final bend of the lap. He then proceeded to ride a superb race to power away to a great win. Hougaard recovered to take a very comfortable third from Mark Baseby.

Heat 5 proved a messy affair to get underway, with the original running being pulled back after Lewis Kerr jumped the start, earning a warning from referee Christina Turnbull in the process. The second running got as far as the first turn, where Edward Kennett hit the shale on his own, and was excluded. Finally the race got underway at the third attempt, with Kerr bolting to the front from Richard Lawson. Lawson was soon in front, passing his team mate on the outside on the first two bends. The Rockets lone rider, Stuart Robson, took second place with a strong pass on Kerr around the outside of the final turns of the lap, before setting off on a forlorn chase of Lawson. Kerr kept up the pressure on Robson, but could never find a way back into second place.

The Rebels were now 10-points to the good, putting the Rockets in tactical territory, but Peter Schroeck resisted the temptation to use it straight away. It was probably a chance to give his team the opportunity to pull back points of their own accord, but still have it up his sleeve in the event of the Rebels holding on to their current lead, and so it proved as the points in Heat 6 were shared.

In the event it seemed that the Rebels would increase their lead, as Lewis Kerr hit the front from the tapes, with Scott Nicholls and Josh Grajczonek battled for second. At the third turn, Nicholls appeared to put a very robust move on Grajczonek, forcing him hard to the fence, but Grajczonek confirmed after the meeting that it was far from that, saying he had heard Nicholls engine die at the turn, causing the Rockets man to straighten and run wide, taking Grajczonek with him. He said that there was no malice in the move, and Nicholls had immediately made an apologetic gesture down the home straight, as well apologising in the pits afterwards. After that Nicholls set off after Kerr, catching him down the home straight, and moving to the front as they hit the first bend of lap 2. That was the race order settled, and the Rockets still had the tactical option to use in the next heat.

Chris Harris came to the tapes wearing the ‘Black and White’ in Heat 7, as Peter Schroeck played his ‘Joker Card’, and with Rory Schlein accompanying Harris, it looked the perfect opportunity to pull back 6-points. It might have been a good time to use the tactical, but Patrick Hougaard had not read the Hoddesdon side’s script. Bolting from the gate, Hougaard led up, only to see Harris demote him a place off the second turn.

Undeterred he immediately struck back, powering beyond Harris down the back straight. Harris kept up the chase, and threw in a big challenge off the second bend of Lap 3, but Hougaard had his measure. He again came with a powerful outside run over the closing turns of the lap, but made a mistake in Bend 4, running wide and locking up, and handing the advantage back to the Rebels man, who produce a superb ride to thwart the tactical move. Rory Schlein took third, and at times looked faster than Harris, and appeared to be having trouble in trying not to overtake him.

Rob Branford appeared to get a flyer in Heat 8, easily leading up from the gate, with the other three contesting the turn behind him. Stuart Robson was first to appear out of the bunch, putting the Rockets on a 5-1, but Cameron Heeps had other ideas. Charging around the outside line, Heeps accounted for Robson on Lap 2, and then had Branford in his sights. With a scintillating, sustained and power packed charge, he reeled in the leader, starting on the back straight of the second lap, catching him on the final turn of the lap and fully completing the move in the back straight on the next circuit, giving the Rebels a share of the points.

Heeps was quickly back on track, taking the Replacement ride in the next heat. As the tapes went up, Richard Lawson and Scott Nicholls contested the run to the curve, with Lawson hitting the front in the turn. Meanwhile Cameron Heeps was making ground on Nicholls and started to apply the pressure from the back straight. By the final two turns of the lap, Nicholls was wearing Heeps like an overcoat, and only a firm move to the outside kept Heeps behind. On the next lap, Heeps was up Nicholls inside as they negotiated the back straight, but once more the experience Rockets man held him off. With Lawson in the wind, Nicholls was hard pressed to hold off the flying Perth born man, but hold him off he did, preventing a Rebels 5-1 in the process.

Heat 10 saw the visitors take a big chunk out of the Rebels lead, as Rory Schlein and Chris Harris made the most of a tardy start from the Rebels duo of Josh Grajczonek and Lewis Kerr. Despite lifting at the tapes, Schlein was like lightning to the turn, with Harris not far behind. Once they hit the front they were away and gone, and the Rebels fate was sealed, despite Grajczonek closing the gap considerable as the race came to its conclusion, however the damage had been done at the start, and the Rockets took a comfortable maximum advantage.

Heat 11 was shared, with Edward Kennett taking his first win of the evening, but not before a close battle with Patrick Hougaard. Kennett just sneaked the lead at the first turn, with Hougaard on his shoulder. The pair then set about each other, in an enthralling battle that saw them racing wheel-to-wheel for most of the race before Kennett just eked out a narrow lead, which he only just held at the flag, as Hougaard put in a powerful inside run to be a meagre few inches away on the line. Jake Allen took a comfortable third, from Stuart Robson, to share the points.

Richard Lawson came in for the absent Charles Wright in Heat 12, and was quickly into his stride, contesting the run to the bend with the fast starting Rob Branford, before leading inside turn one. Cameron Heeps put the Rebels on a ‘Full House’ down the back straight, passing both Branford and Chris Harris, but Harris hit back immediately, guiding up the inside of Heeps on the third turn, to set off after Lawson. Lawson rode a fabulous race to answer every question Harris posed. Meanwhile Harris also had to defend his own position, as Heeps kept up the pressure on the Cornishman. At the flag fall that was the order, with the Rebels adding another couple of points to their lead, putting them just a few points short of only their second home league victory at 41-33.

The Rebels sealed the deal with a superb maximum win in Heat 13, when Josh Grajczonek and Patrick Hougaard proved too good for the rockets duo of Edward Kennett and Scott Nicholls. Grajczonek flashed from the inside gate to lead every inch of the way, with Nicholls giving chase. Hougaard came steaming down the back straight to take both Rockets riders in one fell swoop, to drop in behind his skipper as the hit the third bend. From that point on the Rockets fate was sealed, with Grajczonek and Hougaard pulling further away with each passing lap, with Grajczonek giving a spectacular display of riding the wide outside line around the Oaktree Arena circuit.

It was almost as though the handbrake had been taking off, with the Rebels taking the final two races to pull out a good lead to finalise the win. Heat 14 saw Rory Schlein bolt from the tapes to lead before the first turn, with Richard Lawson, and Jake Allen on his tail. Lawson threw in his first challenge down the wide outside of the back straight, before cutting back hard into the third bend, but Schlein held him off. However he had no answer at the next bend where Lawson sped through. Schlein wouldn’t let it go, and pressed Lawson all the way, whilst all the time Jake Allen was closing in. As the trio approached the final turn of the race, Schlein put in a powerful run on Lawson as Allen did the same to him. As the flag approached all three were almost line abreast, flashing across the line with less than a bike’s length separating them. Lawson just held off Schlein, as he just eclipsed Allen, but it was mighty tight, with the only thing certain, before the result was announced, being that Mark Baseby was fourth.

Unsurprisingly Garry May sent out Richard Lawson and Josh Grajczonek for the final heat, whilst the Rockets tracked Scott Nicholls and Chris Harris. When the green light went out, it was Grajczonek who flashed from the tapes, contesting the early running with Nicholls. As the pair hit the first turn, Grajczonek headed for the dirt, sailing around the outside to head affairs onto the back straight. Lawson was soon on Nicholls case, and the pair became locked in a thrilling battle, swapping places many times over the ensuing laps. First one and then the other would inch in front, only to be overhauled by his opponent until; finally, Nicholls just prevailed as the flag fell. The resulting 4-2 advantage took the scores to a final total of 54-38, to emphatically end the Rebels losing home run.

For the Rockets, Scott Nicholls (10pts), Chris Harris (11+1) and Rory Schlein (7+1) had provided the bulk of the scoring, but it has to be said that the rest were somewhat disappointing and could only muster 10+1 between them.

Garry May admitted that he had suffered more than a few sleepless nights as he pondered what to do to improve the team, but in the end his musings of the problem had come to fruition, and delivered the desired result, and on this night delivered it in style. All three new Rebels had performed well, with Richard Lawson hitting a top scoring 15-points, and Cameron Heeps posting a double figure (10+1) score at reserve.

Both men had put themselves in the reckoning for the ‘Rider of the Night Award’, which Bill Hancock, after much deliberation, gave to Richard Lawson. The rest of the ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels had done what Garry May had wanted all along, and provided strength in depth to aid the top scorers. Once again the watching fans had been treated to a superb night of exciting racing, on a very fast track, which had benefitted from some ‘Natural Watering’ in the days prior to the meeting, and which was now affecting the rest of the region. The Rebels will now go to Hoddesdon for the return leg of this fixture, before facing Swindon (away 29th May) and Bell Vue at home on 2nd June, which will give a good indication of the long term prospects of the reshuffle.

Somerset Rebels - 54

1. Josh Grajczonek - 3, 1*, 1, 3, 3 = 11+1
2. Lewis Kerr - 2*, 1, 2, 0, 0 = 5+1
3. Charles Wright - Rider Replacement
4. Richard Lawson - 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 1 = 15
5. Patrick Hougaard - 1, 3, 2, 2* = 8+1
6. Jake Allen - 3, 0, 0, 1*, 1 = 5+1
7. Cameron Heeps - 2*, 3, 3, 1, 1 = 10+1

Rye House Rockets – 38

1. Edward Kennett - 1, FX, 3, 0 = 4
2. Stuart Robson - 0, 2, 1*, 0 = 3+1
3. Chris Harris - 3, 4^, 2*, 2, 0 = 11+1
4. Rory Schlein (Guest) - 1, 1*, 3, 2 = 7+1
5. Scott Nicholls - 2, 3, 2, 1, 2 = 10
6. Robert Branford - 1, R, 2, 0, R = 3
7. Mark Baseby (Guest) - 0, 0, 0 = 0

SCB Referee: Christina Turnbull

Heat Details

Heat 01: Grajczonek, Kerr, Kennett, Robson (5-1) (5-1) 56.06
Heat 02: Allen, Heeps, Branford, Baseby (5-1) (10-2) 57.02
Heat 03: Harris, Lawson, Schlein, Allen (2-4) (12-6) 56.68
Heat 04: Heeps, Nicholls, Hougaard, Baseby (4-2) (16-8) 56.16
Heat 05: (Re-Runx2) Lawson, Robson, Kerr, Kennett (Fell/Excluded) (4-2) (20-10) 56.94
Heat 06: Nicholls, Kerr, Grajczonek, Branford (ret) (3-3) (23-13) 57.47
Heat 07: Hougaard, Harris (Tactical), Schlein, Allen (3-5) (26-18) 57.06
Heat 08: Heeps, Branford, Robson, Kerr (3-3) (29-21) 58.31
Heat 09: Lawson, Nicholls, Heeps, Branford (4-2) (33-23) 57.68
Heat 10: Schlein, Harris, Grajczonek, Kerr (1-5) (34-28) 58.06
Heat 11: Kennett, Hougaard, Allen, Robson (3-3) (37-31) 58.25
Heat 12: Lawson, Harris, Heeps, Branford (ret) (4-2) (41-33) 57.75
Heat 13: Grajczonek, Hougaard, Nicholls, Kennett (5-1) (46-34) 58.34
Heat 14: Lawson, Schlein, Allen, Baseby (4-2) (50-36) 59.06
Heat 15: Grajczonek, Nicholls, Lawson, Harris (4-2) (54-38) 58.18

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