Somerset Rebels win the Premier League pairs Championship

15:35 04 June 2013

Action from the Somerset Rebels win over Leicester Lions

Action from the Somerset Rebels win over Leicester Lions

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Since the Premier League Pairs Championship moved to the Oak Tree Arena in 2007, the ‘Case’s Somerset Rebels’ have, over the intervening years, been touted as potential champions by many pundits, who have pontificated that home track advantage would prevail, but the very nature of the Highbridge circuit has ensured that it has never happened, until now that is.

Since the Premier League Pairs Championship moved to the Oak Tree Arena in 2007, the ‘Case’s Somerset Rebels’ have, over the intervening years, been touted as potential champions by many pundits, who have pontificated that home track advantage would prevail, but the very nature of the Highbridge circuit has ensured that it has never happened, until now that is.

In the past some high powered partnerships have represented the Rebels, including such riders as Magnus Zetterstrom, Jason Doyle, Steve Johnston and Rebels legend, and of course the late, great, Emil Kramer. Although they have come close, they have never made the top step of the podium, despite two previous Grand Final appearances at the Oak Tree Arena.

This year representatives, Jason Doyle and Josh Grajczonek, again looked to be amongst the front runners, but were up against powerful opposition in the shape of the Edinburgh Monarchs duo, Craig Cook and former Rebel Claus Vissing, the Workington Comets pairing of Richard Lawson and Rene Bach and the Scunthorpe Scorpions pair, Josh Auty and David Howe. In addition there were a few dark horses amongst the rest of the field, who if some of the more fancied teams faltered, would surely capitalise, and steal away a qualifying place or two.

The Rebels were drawn in the number one and two positions in the opening group, and wasted no time in signalling their intent, as they powered home to post a maximum advantage in the very first heat, against a Glasgow Tigers pairing that included James Wright, another who had worn the Rebels race suit in the recent past. Doyle bolted out of the gate, with Joe Screen in hot pursuit. Josh Grajczonek was next to show, and as they ran to the second bend he came with a storming run around the wide outside, to cruise into second spot behind his partner. As a contest that was the race done and dusted, with the only other change being a second lap James Wright pass on Screen, who looked to have been filled in, in the early stages.

The secret of Pairs racing is to team ride with your partner, and not to run a last place, as the minor places carry the points to win the heat, and both the Scunthorpe Scorpions, and Berwick Bandits also made winning starts to their challenge for the title, by following this adage, and taking 5-4 victories against their opponents.

Scunthorpe were up against the Ipswich Witches, who featured Ben Barker, and it was he who made the best of the first turn, after David Howe had made a fast break from the tapes. As Barker powered away, Howe and partner Josh Auty filled the minor places. Although Barker looked back for his partner several times, he never once attempted to slow up the race, to allow Leigh Lanham the chance of passing a Scunthorpe rider and take the heat win. Only when it was far too late, and the Scunthorpe duo had successfully nullified Lanham, did he slow, coming off the very last turn of the race, in the vain hope that his well beaten partner might come through. It was an error that would eventually cost his team dear in the final reckoning.

The Berwick Bandits were represented by Kozza Smith and Robin Aspegren, but neither had the answer to a lightening Joe Screen start in Heat 5. Screen was well gone no sooner had the tapes risen, but once again tactical team riding came into play, as the Bandits filled the minor places, blocking out any challenge from James Wright, and taking the heat by the minimum margin. The Glasgow Tigers had now suffered two reverses, and were on the back foot early in the game, and it was something that the 2011 Champions would find difficult to recover from.

The Rebels consolidated their position in Heat 7, by adding another win to their tally, albeit by the smallest points difference. Once again it was Ben Barker who took the advantage after a level break. Jason Doyle gave chase, as Josh Grajczonek easily accounted for Leigh Lanham. Doyle closed down Barker, and over the final two laps, challenged inside and out, but could not find a way past the Ipswich man, who took a comfortable enough win, but as in his previous race, without the back up of his partner.

The Rebels were joined at the head of affairs by the Berwick Bandits, who took a full house against the Scunthorpe Scorpions. Kozza Smith blew away from the line to lead, with Auty and Howe in pursuit. Robin Aspegren was last away, but the Swede had stormed into second place before the turn. Auty was first to react to Aspegren, and chased him down and by the end of the second lap he was close up, and flying around the wide line. However Aspegren is also a man who loves charging around the boards of the Highbridge track, and he too took that route, to ensure that Auty could not progress. With the challenge averted, Berwick ran out easy winners, to jointly top the chart in Group 1.

Glasgow gave themselves a glimmer of hope, with a victory against Ipswich in Heat 11, but it could have been so much better, and by the same token, could have been a lot worse. James Wright took the advantage at the first turn after the field had trapped level. He led until the fourth bend, where his partner took over the lead, and the pair team rode to keep Ben Barker back over most of the first three laps. Barker built up a head of steam, and by the back straight of lap three he was charging, and heading for the dirt. As they approached the final corner, he swept around Wright as they ran into the straight to start the final lap. He then switched inside, and came with such surging run, that he almost caught Screen on the run to the line.

Scunthorpe came back into the reckoning, and dealt the home duo a blow in the process. The Scorpions pair got the better of the break, and led from the start. Jason Doyle closed the gap on Auty, and cruised by him on the outside of the back straight of lap two. Doyle could have charged after Howe, in an attempt to take the win and reduce the deficit to one point, but instead he was thinking of taking the heat win, and immediately slowed, in an attempt to move Auty back into the clutches of Josh Grajczonek. Doyle rode a superbly selfless race over the closing laps, to such an extent that Grajczonek was able to challenge in the final turns of the last lap, with Auty probably thankful that he was able to hold Doyle off for as long as he did, and in turn stay in front of Grajczonek.

The fortunes of Berwick took a turn for the worse when they came up against Ipswich. Only needing to match or better the Rebels last result to stay in the running, they crashed 7-2, as Leigh Lanham flew off the inside gate to lead all the way. Ben Barker was soon in second, with a good run down the back straight to account for Robin Aspegren. Once at the front the Suffolk duo was never troubled in posting a maximum win, and coming back into the reckoning with their final qualifying race.

Scunthorpe entered the fray in their final heat, with a 5-4 win over the hapless Glasgow Tigers. Joe Screen took his third win on the spin with another blazing start off the outside gate. The Scorpions held the minor places after the start, and try as he might, probing inside and out, James Wright was unable to find a way into the scoring position that would have seen the Tigers progress to the semi finals.

The Rebels put the final nail in the Berwick coffin in their last effort, as they too put the big one on the Bandits in the final heat of the group. Robin Aspegren broke first, with Jason Doyle and Kozza Smith filling the places. Doyle took to the inside, and slipped by Aspegren out of the second bend. Josh Grajczonek was next to make his move, and down the back straight he relegated Smith to last place, and closed the gap on Aspegren. By the final bend of the lap the writing was on the wall as he disputed second place, but it was another lap before he could make sure of the place, guiding up the inside to ensure the Rebels finished the group stages as they started, with a maximum heat win, and topping the group in the process.

They were followed into the Semi-finals by Scunthorpe who finished on 18-points, the same number as Ipswich, progressing by virtue of their opening heat win over the East Anglian side.

The second group looked to be a head-to-head between the Workington Comets, and the Edinburgh Monarchs, with the Leicester Lions being a possible spoiler. Edinburgh, led by the man of the moment, Craig Cook, backed by Claus Vissing, and defending champions Workington with Richard Lawson and Rene Bach responsible for their title hopes, both looked strong, but Leicester had the services of Lasse Bjerre and Kevin Doolan, both of whom have had their effective moments at the Oak Tree Arena.

Edinburgh opened with a losing heat against Workington, but a storming individual win by Craig Cook. Cook battled Richard Lawson to the first bend, before pulling clear to take the personal honours. Rene Bach was last away, but recovered to charge past Claus Vissing around the opening turns. Once behind his partner, they pair held the minor places to the end, and took an early lead against their main opponents, but there was still a long way to go.

Cory Gathercole rolled back the years in his opening ride, when he came with a pulsating run to steal away a win in Heat 4. Ricky Wells had made the best of a level break, and led before the turn. Gathercole was up his inside on the fourth turn, but could not make the move stick. On the second bend of the next lap, he repeated the move, but again came up blank. He then had to fend off the wide fast run of Richard Hall, before switching out into the dirt himself on the second turn of Lap 3. He laid down a hard charge, and a lap later he was all over the back of Wells, storming past the former USA Under-21 Champion around the final bend of the race, to take a superb win. Unfortunately his partner, Mark Lemon, could not match his pace, and was held off by the Sheffield pair.

Workington increased their grip on the group with a full house win in Heat 6, with Leicester on the wrong end of the 7-2 score line. Richard Lawson made the early running over Bjerre and Doolan, but very soon Bach arrived on the scene, and powered around the outside of the Lions duo, through the opening turns. He carried on his run, and by the fourth turn was leading to way to his partner, and the pair easily ran out winners to take the maximum advantage.

Edinburgh slipped another point behind, when they couldn’t match the Comets last effort. As the tapes rose the field broke level, but by the turn the Monarchs were heading the pack, and in line to emulate their main opponent’s last heat win. That was until Cory Gathercole blasted around the dirt line in the second turn to relegate Claus Vissing to third place, and charged after Craig Cook, pressing him all the way to the flag.

Leicester got back on track with a heat win, 5-4, over the Sheffield duo of Wells and Hall. Wells got the better of Lasse Bjerre on the run to the turn, with Doolan close up. Richard Hall put in a strong challenge to Doolan as he moved out into the dirt line, but he had to switch back inside when the move failed. Meanwhile at the front Wells was comfortable, until a big lift on the final bend of the race allowed Bjerre to come with a big run to the line, which saw Wells just have enough in hand to fend him off.

Another maximum advantage saw the Workington Comets increased their grip on the group, when they blasted home, after both coming from behind the fast starting Mark Lemon to sow up the heat by the fourth turn. The Monarchs answered that with a full house of their own to keep the pressure on the Comets. Claus Vissing bolted off the line to lead every yard of the way, and was followed home by his partner, after he had accounted for Richard Hall in the second bend, with Ricky Wells never getting in the race.

Leicester stayed in the mix, with a heat win over the Plymouth Devils in Heat 16, but had to endure a re-start when Mark Lemon was pulled back after getting a flyer from the gate. He led again in the second running, but by the third turn he was at the rear, as first Cory Gathercole, and then the Lions pair cruised by. Lasse Bjerre closed down Gathercole, making his move, and going to the front on the third lap, but he never got away, as the Swindon based Australian pressured him all the way to the flag, with Doolan taking third.

Workington assured themselves of a place in the Semi-finals, with a 5-4 heat win over Sheffield in their final group race. Ricky Wells raced the Comets pair to the turn, just getting the better of Richard Lawson off the second turn. Rene Bach was soon on the scene, and pressed Wells over the next two laps, going to the front inside the last two bends of the penultimate lap. Wells wasn’t done, and powered back to the front around the wide line on the final turn of the lap to take the individual win, with the heat win going Workington’s way.

If Leicester were to upset the Edinburgh apple cart, they needed to put a 7-2 win in the bank, over the Monarchs, from the final qualifying heat of the night. Craig Cook was obviously eager to make sure that didn’t happen, but he was too eager, and in his haste, jumped the start, causing the referee to call them back to have another go. In the restart, it was his partner who was guilty of an equally unsatisfactory start, as again David Robinson halted proceedings, and brought them back to the tapes. When they eventually got away, it was Cook, and Kevin Doolan who disputed the early running, with Cook edging the run to the turn. Claus Vissing was up the outside of Doolan on the second turn, but couldn’t make the move stick, eventually dropping back into the clutches of Lasse Bjerre, and engaging in a bit of elbows as the Dane muscled by. Cooks early burst to account for Doolan had ensured the Monarchs progression to the knock out stages, at the expense of the Lions.

The Semi-finals saw the home duo take on the Edinburgh Monarchs, in Semi-final 1, whilst Group 2 winners, Workington took on Scunthorpe in the second.

Craig Cook had not been beaten by an opponent all night, and the Semi-final was no different, as he blasted away from the line to lead all the way to the flag fall. Behind him the Rebels snuffed out the challenged of Claus Vissing, and team rode him out of the race, to take a 5-4 win, that put them in the final, for the third time at the Oak Tree Arena, and the fourth time overall.

The second Semi-final went the same way, with Scunthorpe taking the 5-4 win to go forwards. A fairly level break had seen Rene Bach take up the running, and lead all the way, with David Howe in second. Behind them Richard Lawson looked to have put the Comets through when he shot by Josh Auty on the back straight, but Auty is a fighter, and was not going to lie down easily. Storming around the wide line he was back on terms coming out of the last turn of the next lap, edging in front down the straight. Lawson came back immediately, only for Auty to cut inside and shoot through to take back third place, and send the Scorpions through to meet the Rebels in the final.

The Rebels had the gate choice, and chose to go from 1&3. As the tapes rose, Josh Grajczonek blasted to the lead, but the Scunthorpe pair had filled the minor places, putting them in the driving seat to better their runners up spot from last year. But if there’s one rider you would want to pull the fat out of the fires, it’s Jason Doyle, and he brought home the bacon with a driving run to first pick off David Howe on the first turn of lap 2 before continuing, amid loud cheers from the home fans, to run up the inside of Josh Auty on the final turn of the same lap. Once behind Grajczonek he pulled clear of the Scorpions pair, as the Rebels finished the way they had started the evening, with a big 7-2 win to write another chapter in Rebels history.

After the celebrations had died down somewhat, and in a post match interview Doyle dedicated the win to the late Emil Kramer, who he had partnered to the runners up spot in 2008, and who had appeared in three Pairs Championships, and two Grand Finals for the Rebels.

Premier League Pairs Championship

Group A

Somerset = 22 (Qualify as Group Winners)

1. Jason Doyle 4, 3, 3, 4 = 14

2. Josh Grajczonek 3, 2, 0, 3 = 8

Glasgow = 16

1. Joe Screen 0, 4, 4, 4 = 12

2. James Wright 2, 0, 2, 0 = 4

Ipswich = 18

1. Ben Barker 4, 4, 3, 3 = 14

2. Leigh Lanham 0, 0, 0, 4 = 4

Scunthorpe = 18 (Qualify as Group Runners-up after defeating Ipswich 5-4 in Heat 3)

1. Josh Auty 2, 2, 2, 3 = 9

2. David Howe 3, 0, 4, 2 = 9

Berwick = 16

1. Kozza Smith 2, 4, 0, 2 = 8

2. Robin Aspegren 3, 3, 2, 0 = 8

Group B

Edinburgh = 21 (Qualify as Runners Up)

1. Craig Cook 4, 4, 3, 4 = 15

2. Claus Vissing 0, 2, 4, 0 = 6

Workington = 24 (Qualify as Group Winners)

1. Richard Lawson 3, 3, 4, 2 = 12

2. Rene Bach 2, 4, 3, 3 = 12

Plymouth = 12

1. Cory Gathercole 4, 3, 0, 3 = 10

2. Mark Lemon 0, 0, 2, 0 = 2

Sheffield = 15

1. Ricky Wells 3, 4, 0, 4 = 11

2. Richard Hall 2, 0, 2, 0 = 4

Leicester = 18

1. Lasse Bjerre 2, 3, 4, 2 = 11

2. Kevin Doolan 0, 2, 2, 3 = 7

SCB Referee: David Robinson

Heat Details

Heat 01: Doyle, Grajczonek, Wright, Screen 57.94

Heat 02: Cook, Lawson, Bach, Vissing 58.03

Heat 03: Barker, Howe, Auty, Lanham 58.50

Heat 04: Gathercole, Wells, Hall, Lemon 58.25

Heat 05: Screen, Aspegren, Smith, Wright 57.81

Heat 06: Bach, Lawson, Bjerre, Doolan 57.41

Heat 07: Barker, Doyle, Grajczonek, Lanham 57.53

Heat 08: Cook, Gathercole, Vissing, Lemon 57.53

Heat 09: Smith, Aspegren, Auty, Howe 58.35

Heat 10: Wells, Bjerre, Doolan, Hall 58.59

Heat 11: Screen, Barker, Wright, Lanham 58.69

Heat 12: Lawson, Bach, Lemon, Gathercole 58.93

Heat 13: Howe, Doyle, Auty, Grajczonek 59.00

Heat 14: Vissing, Cook, Hall, Wells 59.03

Heat 15: Lanham, Barker, Aspegren, Smith 59.34

Heat 16: (Re-run) Bjerre, Gathercole, Doolan, Lemon 59.34

Heat 17: Screen, Auty, Howe, Wright 58.97

Heat 18: Wells, Bach, Lawson, Hall 59.0

Heat 19: Doyle, Grajczonek, Smith, Aspegren 58.69

Heat 20: (Re-run x 2) Cook, Doolan, Bjerre, Vissing

Semi-Final 1 (Somerset –v- Edinburgh): Cook, Grajczonek, Doyle, Vissing 59.78

Semi-Final 2 (Workington –v- Scunthorpe): Bach, Howe, Auty, Lawson 60.19

Grand-Final (Somerset –v- Scunthorpe): Doyle, Grajczonek, Auty, Howe 59.50

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