Friday March 29, 2013
A good crowd braved the numbingly cold Easter weather to see the ‘Case’s Somerset Rebels’ season opener against local rivals, the revamped Plymouth Devils, at the Oaktree Arena.

With just two riders retained from last year, and a new promotion in place, the Devils brought a capable looking septet to the Highbridge circuit, with Cory Gathercole leading out a team full of experience at all levels of the sport. Aussie team manager, Mark Lemon, like Gathercole no stranger to the Oak Tree, was joined by Ty Proctor, and Ricky Kling at the top end of the team, with Chris Schramm, Todd Kurtz and Ben Reade making up the remainder. With Kurtz and Schramm almost certain to share one of the reserve spots throughout this season, the bottom end scoring alongside a strong top end, could well see the Devils shock quite a few teams this season, and finish close to, if not in one of the playoff spots. Wherever they finish, it will be a far cry from the last two season’s wooden spoon efforts.

The Somerset management team have also been hard at work in the close season. Retaining four of last year’s team, they have sought to improve, and add potential for the future to the seven, with Nick Morris, Josh Grajczonek, and Stefan Nielsen added to the Rebels team. With Jason Doyle and Alex Davies renewing their partnership, Kyle Newman has stepped up into the main body of the team, and Tom Perry has moved up one in the order, with Nielsen coming in to fill his role from last season, giving the Rebels a look that has prompted many pundits to tip them for great things this season, but that is on paper, and the reality will be what they do on the shale, and that is a mouth watering prospect for the coming season.

The meeting got off to the best possible start as far as the Rebels were concerned, as Alex Davies and Jason Doyle bolted from the tapes to lead up. Davies took up the running at the first turn, and the pair never looked back as they won unchallenged to the line, taking a bloodless 5-1, in what turned out to be the fastest time of the night, with Ty Proctor taking the minor honours. To be fair to Proctor, he had just endured a Bank Holiday journey from Manchester, having ridden in Wolverhampton’s afternoon defeat of Belle Vue, arriving late at the Oak Tree Arena, having battled his way through the holiday traffic.

Todd Kurtz showed that the Devils will have some real bottom end power as he took Heat 2, with an all the way win over Stefan Nielsen and Tom Perry. He burst from the gate to lead early, being chased for the opening lap by Nielsen, but after the first circuit he pulled clear, and barring mechanical failure, the result was never in doubt.

Last season Kyle Newman showed that he was no respecter of reputations, as he adding some notable scalps to his CV, and tonight was no different as he set off the way he means to go on. During the off season Newman has not rested on his laurels, putting in some extremely hard work both physically and mechanically, and if his opening ride was anything to go by, it will stand him in good stead for the season. Mark Lemon lead from the gate, with Newman on his inside, and as they approached the second turn, the experienced Lemon left a narrow gap on his inside, and Newman was through in a flash, in the usual hustling, bustling style, stopping Lemon from clamping him to the kerb. As Newman pulled out a lead, and after a slow start, Josh Grajczonek battled Cory Gathercole for third place, until he retired on the final lap, with Gathercole having secured third spot.

With two shared heats on the board, two more were to follow. Heat 4 saw Ricky Kling power around the outside of the fast starting Stefan Nielsen, leading into the second turn, after the Rebels youngster had rocketed to the front from the tapes. Nick Morris was slowly away in comparison, but came with a storming run down the back straight, only to catch Nielsen in the wrong place to execute his attempted outside pass, and momentarily halt his pursuit of Kling. Morris was soon by his team mate, but the slight delay was enough to give Kling the opportunity to choose his lines, and despite Morris crawling all over his back wheel for the remainder of the race, the Swede just held on to take the win.

The Devils also provided the winner of the next heat, and you might be forgiven for thinking that winner would be Ty Proctor, but as he has done many times before, Chris Schramm stunned the Rebels faithful with a superb ride, this time holding off a hard charging Josh Grajczonek. Schramm made a great start to just pip the Rebels' new boy into the turn, and once there, he had no intention of giving the place back, battling with Grajczonek for all four laps to take the chequered flag in front, with his only anxious moment being his exit from the final bend, when he picked up grip, and was almost fire to the fence, but he quickly had the situation under control to take the win. Meanwhile Kyle Newman recovered from a tardy exit from the tapes, sweeping past Ty Proctor down the back straight of the first lap, to record an untroubled point in third place.

With their eyes on Heat 8, the Devils switched their reserves in Heat 6, sending out Ben Reade in place of Todd Kurtz. As the tapes rose on the heat, Jason Doyle and Ricky Kling matched each other for pace to the turn, but it was Doyle who got the upper hand into the bend on the inside. Alex Davies was not far behind, and as Kling moved out slightly, Davies was into the gap he had left, only to see Kling hold him off. Undeterred, Davies renewed his challenge, pressing Kling up the inside for the next couple of laps, before switching to the outside, and sweeping around the wide line to demote Kling to third as they ran around the opening turns of the final lap, to join Jason Doyle in their second ‘full house’ of the night. In his first two rides, Davies looked to carry one the kind of form that had seen him have a terrific end to his last two seasons at the Oak Tree Arena, not only that he seemed to be displaying a new found toughness and confidence that could see him as one of the leading players in the 2013 Rebels side.

No sooner had the Rebels increased their lead to 8-points, than they were pegged back as the Devils posted their first heat advantage of the night. Mark Lemon showed that he still had plenty to offer the Devils, with a flying start that took him to the front before the turn, leaving Nick Morris to chase him from second spot. Although Morris pressed hard for all four laps, Lemon had the upper hand and used all his considerable experience to hold off his younger compatriot. Tom Perry rode a great opening lap to pass Cory Gathercole for third place, but he couldn’t sustain it, and Gathercole won back the place as the young Midlander faded, giving the Devils a 2-4 advantage for the heat.

With Ben Reade having switched to Heat 6, the Devils tracked Todd Kurtz in his place in Heat 8, giving then a strong hand as he joined Chris Schramm. No matter what form he has been in, Heat 8 has never served Alex Davies particularly well in the past, and had become something of a hoodoo heat for him, but that was then, and this was now. Davies blasted from the tapes to lead every inch of the way, to win the heat ‘pulling a cart’. Stefan Nielsen made another fast start to chase Kurtz to the turn, challenging for second spot. His tenure in third was, however, short lived, as Chris Schramm powered by into the turn. With Davies long gone, the Devils pairing filled the remaining scoring places, to share the heat.

If Alex Davies was posting his intent for the season for all to see, Kyle Newman was displaying the intent we already knew he had, and once again it was a supposed leading light that was on the end of it. Ricky Kling emerged from a scruffy first turn to lead from Newman. In the melee, Josh Grajczonek and Todd Kurtz found themselves at the rear and battling for third until Grajczonek retired on the final turn. At the front Newman powered up the inside of Kling into the third turn, and muscled his way through, moving Kling out in the process, showing him the wide line. Once Newman had eased him out, that was Kling done, and all his fight seemed to disappear, leaving Newman to pull clear to a comfortable victory.

Alex Davies, last seen out in Heat 8, was quickly back to the track for Heat 10, again renewing his unbeaten partnership with Jason Doyle. At the tape rise, it was Cory Gathercole who made the initial showing, only for Doyle to come steaming around the outside line to take up the lead into the back straight. Alex Davies’ getaway had been his worst of the night, and it found him trailing at the rear into the opener. Last place was never going to be good enough for a rider who had displayed in his first three rides some of the best form of his Somerset career, and as soon as they negotiated the first turn he carved his way through the opposition riders. Mark Lemon was his first victim as he blazed up the inside off the first turn, before muscling Cory Gathercole out of the way on the inside of the second turn. Once in second spot he followed home his skipper for another maximum heat win. Despite a brief revival from Gathercole, Davies second place was always comfortable after the opening turns.

Despite now being 10-points down, the Devils team manager resisted the temptation to throw in an immediate tactical ride, choosing to wait for what he saw as a better opportunity, as Heat 11 brought Nick Morris to the tapes against Ty Proctor. A level break saw all but Tom Perry enter the first turn, side-by-side, before Chris Schramm emerged from the three wide battle, to just edge the lead into the second bend. Immediately Morris headed for the dirt line, putting in a power packed challenge as they entered the final two turns of the lap, and blasted around the widest of lines in the heavy stuff, squeezing through to overpower Schramm with a spectacular move off the final turn. Once at the head of affairs, Morris pulled well clear to post an effortless win. Schramm held his place until Proctor came by on the penultimate lap, to give the Devils a shared heat.

Lee Trigger sent Mark Lemon out on a tactical in Heat 12, wearing the ‘Magic Hat’, and it almost paid off in style. Lemon made a terrific start to lead up Josh Grajczonek, with Todd Kurtz filling third spot. Stefan Nielsen came with a great run to challenge Kurtz off the second turn, only to get out of shape and find himself up the handlebars of his machine. Whilst Grajczonek pressured Lemon down the back straight, Nielsen recovered to renew his challenge around the next two turns, but ran wide into the deep and heavy by the fence, and took an awkward looking fall on the final turn, stopping the race. Nielsen looked uncomfortable when he regained his feet, but the home fans needn’t have worried as turned out to be a broken boot causing the discomfort. With Nielsen excluded, the race came back to the tapes, but this time it was Grajczonek who made the better start, and blasted to the front before the turn. Lemon made his move up the inside of the second turn to grab the lead, only for Grajczonek to cut back up his inside, in a very tight move on the next turn. Back in the lead, the ex-Glasgow Tiger headed for the dirt, and in a powerful ride around the boards, accounted for Lemon with some aplomb and ease. With the Devils filling the places, and Lemon in second they cut back the Rebels lead with a 3-5 heat advantage.

The Rebels faithful need not have had any concerns though, as Heat 13 brought Jason Doyle and Nick Morris to the tapes in what proved to be a powerful combination. Their counterparts in this battle were the so far disappointing and unproductive Ty Proctor, and Ricky Kling. Proctor appeared to have put his earlier misfortunes behind him, as he jetted off the tapes to lead up, as Jason Doyle lifted badly off the line. Doyle soon recovered, and moved out wide to deliver a successful challenge to Proctor off the second turn. Morris wasn’t too far behind, and he offered his run down the back straight and charged by Proctor as they entered the third turn. With both Rebels men in the vanguard, they pulled away to record an unchallenged maximum heat victory, and give the Rebels the win on the night.

Heat 14 saw Kyle Newman return to the track after his destruction of Ricky Kling in Heat 9, and this time it was Cory Gathercole that was the focus of his attentions. Gathercole made a superb start to lead up, and take that lead into the back straight. Newman wasn’t far away, but second place was not on his agenda, and making a superb cutback into turn three he sliced up the inside of Gathercole to head the race into the second lap. Gathercole was not done, and redoubled his efforts, as the pair raced side-by-side foe the next couple of laps, before Newman exerted his authority to pull out a lead and take the win. Behind them, Tom Perry was having his own battle with Ben Reade, with the young Devil passing Perry at the end of the opening lap, after the former had made a good start. Perry was back in third on the next lap, and held the place to the flag to give the Rebels a 4-2 advantage.

Heat 15 saw the inevitable Jason Doyle line up, but his partner was Alex Davies, who earned a well deserved place at the table for his performance in the programmed rides. On the other side of the tapes, it was Chris Schramm and Mark Lemon taking to the track. Doyle made a flying start as the tapes rose, only to be called back for an unsatisfactory start. In the restart he made no mistake, and blew off the line to lead after a level break. Alex Davies was the only one not to get away level, as he made what was probably his worst start of the night. However he stuck his head down and charged through the field, firstly blasting into third place, and demoting Schramm to the rear as they ran back to the line for the first time. He set off in pursuit of Lemon, catching him on the next lap, and was all over his back wheel, trying all lines inside and out to pass his more experienced opponent. Despite his efforts Davies could not find a way into second spot, but it wasn’t for the want of trying as Lemon rode a superb race to deny him. Davies was denied what would have been a deserved paid maximum, whilst his partner Doyle completed his, but their evenings work won them both ‘Rider of the Night’ awards, from joint meeting sponsors, MCS Ltd, and Godfrey Spargo.

So the Rebels take a 54-38 lead to the St Boniface Arena for the second leg of the challenge tonight (Saturday), but on the tight confines of the Devils own shale, the job might not be an easy one, as the home side will surely make the Rebels work extremely hard if they are to take the aggregate win. As for this first leg, it provided some great racing on a somewhat heavy track, and the Devils showed enough to alert many Premier League sides to the fact that they will be a totally different proposition in 2013 than they have been for the previous two seasons, and they could very well finish well up the table.

Despite one or two of the Rebels new line up having a hard night the performances of Alex Davies, and Kyle Newman only bode well for the coming season. Add to that the inevitable powerful scoring of Jason Doyle, and you already have the makings of a potent side. Nick Morris will undoubtedly be pushing Doyle all the way this season, and once Josh Grajczonek has a few more laps around the Highbridge circuit he will be another with a lot to offer to the cause. The bottom end potential is there for all to see, and despite a quite night both reserves should soon be adding to their returns.

The business end of the season starts in earnest next Friday, when the Ipswich Witches are the visitors in the Rebels first League Cup meeting of the season, quickly followed by a tough trip to Rye House the following night in the same competition.

Somerset - 54
1. Jason Doyle 2*, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 14+1
2. Alex Davies 3, 2*, 3, 2*, 1 = 11+2
3. Josh Grajczonek R, 2, 0, 3 = 5
4. Kyle Newman 3, 1*, 3, 3 = 10+1
5. Nick Morris 2, 2, 3, 2* = 9+1
6. Tom Perry 1*, 0, 0, 1 = 2+1
7. Stefan Nielsen 2, 1*, 0, f/x = 3+1

Plymouth - 38
1. Ty Proctor 1, 0, 2, 1 = 4
2. Chris Schramm 0, 3, 1*, 1*, 0 = 5+2
3. Mark Lemon 2, 3, 0, 4^, 2 = 11
4. Cory Gathercole 1*, 1, 1, 2 = 5+1
5. Ricky Kling 3, 1, 2, 0 = 6
6. Todd Kurtz 3, 2, 1*, 1* = 7+2
7. Ben Reade 0, R, 0, = 0

SCB Referee: Margaret Vardy

Heat Details

Heat 01: Davies, Doyle, Proctor, Schramm 5-1 57.37
Heat 02: Kurtz, Nielsen, Perry, Reade 3-3 8-4 58.44
Heat 03: Newman, Lemon, Gathercole, Grajczonek ret 3-3 11-7 58.62
Heat 04: Kling, Morris, Nielsen, Reade ret 3-3 14-10 59.37
Heat 05: Schramm, Grajczonek, Newman, Proctor 3-3 17-13 59.00
Heat 06: Doyle, Davies, Kling, Reade 5-1 22-14 58.65
Heat 07: Lemon, Morris, Gathercole, Perry 2-4 24-18 59.50
Heat 08: Davies, Kurtz, Schramm, Nielsen 3-3 27-21 58.35
Heat 09: Newman, Kling, Kurtz, Grajczonek 3-3 30-24 59.19
Heat 10: Doyle, Davies, Gathercole, Lemon 5-1 35-25 58.60
Heat 11: Morris, Proctor, Schramm, Perry 3-3 38-28 59.38
Heat 12: (Re-run) Grajczonek, Lemon (Tactical), Kurtz, Nielsen (fell-exc) 3-5 41-33 59.34
Heat 13: Doyle, Morris, Proctor, Kling 5-1 46-34 58.78
Heat 14: Newman, Gathercole, Perry, Reade 4-2 50-36 59.69
Heat 15: (Re-run) Doyle, Lemon, Davies, Schramm 4-2 54-38 59.16

Report: Dave Thompson

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