Somerset Rebels race to home success over Berwick Bandits

PUBLISHED: 08:42 20 July 2019

Action from the Somerset Rebels home victory over Berwick bandits. Picture HAGGIS HARTMAN

Action from the Somerset Rebels home victory over Berwick bandits. Picture HAGGIS HARTMAN

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The 'Cases' Somerset Rebels track curator and his staff have transformed the racing surface over the last three weeks, following some criticism after the Redcar match at the end of June, writes Dave Thompson.

Action from the Somerset Rebels home victory over Berwick bandits. Picture HAGGIS HARTMANAction from the Somerset Rebels home victory over Berwick bandits. Picture HAGGIS HARTMAN

Last week the track rode extremely fast, with the quickest time being under half a second outside the five-year-old track record. That trend continued into this week's encounter with the Berwick Bandits, not only producing 11 heat winning times under 57 seconds but also producing a time virtually on a par with the existing track record, when Chris Harris posted a 55.72 second win, just 0.04 seconds outside the mark.

That recording would have been the main talking point for the fans, had it not been for the fact that Rory Schlein had obliterated the standing track record by over half a second in the heat immediately before Harris's run. Schlein had jetted around the Oaktree Arena circuit in Heat 6, posting an incredible 55.12 seconds, some 0.56 seconds faster than Craig Cooks five-year-old mark. In a post-meeting interview, Schlein admitted: "I thought it was a good pace but I didn't feel it was exceptionally fast and so I was a bit surprised, but equally delighted when they told me that I had smashed the track record."

The Rebels were able to track their full septet, as they welcomed back Nico Covatti, following his spell on the sidelines with a broken rib, sustained riding for Poole. On the Berwick side of the pits, they too had a full seven rider side but were obliged to use a guest for their injured number one and former Rebel, Aaron Summers, with Kyle Howarth stepping into the breach.

Whilst Rory Schlein was to go on to set the fastest ever time recorded at the Oaktree Arena, he was, however, unable to match the early pace on Berwick's Jye Etheridge in the first heat, as the Newcastle, New South Wales born rider burst from the tapes to lead all the way to the flag. Todd Kurtz and Schlein filled the minor places, with Kyle Howarth pressing Schlein hard over the first lap. Schlein took up the chase on Etheridge on the next circuit but try as he might he couldn't close down the flying Bandit.

Coty Garcia, who played a small part in the Rebels 2018 Premiership KO Cup success, when he guested in the second leg of the final at Kings Lynn, burst from the tapes in Heat 2, to lead up from Anders Rowe, Leon Flint and Henry Atkins, racing three abreast in the turn. Rowe emerged as the challenger, with Flint taking third place on the run down the back straight. Rowe harried Garcia all the way, buzzing around his back wheel, without being able to find a workable pass. Atkins seemed to be getting nowhere despite chasing hard but on the final lap, he slowed dramatically, although he was able to limp over the line, a long way behind.

Nico Covatti marked his return to the team with a blinding start from the inside gate, to lead well before the first bend. Kevin Doolan and Valentin Grobauer came next, whilst Danny Gappmaier's chance went begging with a big lift off the line. He recovered some ground and was able to challenge Grobauer in the third bend but the German had his measure. After beating off Gappmaier, Grobauer set about Doolan, slowly closing the gap and then from virtually nowhere, as they headed out onto the third circuit, the gap between the two closed in a flash. The unexpected speed of their closing appeared to catch Grobauer by surprise and he had to take avoiding action into the second turn, in order not to collide with the rear of the Berwick skipper's machine. Any chance Grobauer had of taking second place was completely gone in that one incident but the Rebels still took the heat advantage to level the scores.

Henry Atkins made a brilliant start in Heat 4 to lead to the turn, with Chris Harris in close attendance. Harris protected his young partner, team riding him to block out Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen. The further the race went the more dangerous Busk Jakobsen became, at times threatening to pass both Rebels. With the possible prospect of losing the heat advantage, Harris had to make a decision, to stay with Atkins or go on to secure the advantage, he sensibly chose the latter with just over a lap to go. Atkins did well to hold off Busk Jakobsen until the second bend on the final lap, where the Dane finally took second place, however, the Rebels had held a heat advantage.

Jye Etheridge continued his night's work in a similar fashion to the way he started, bolting from the tapes to just pip Valentin Grobauer and Kyle Howarth to the first curve. Grobauer, for his part, found himself the meat in the sandwich and was squeezed out at the turn. Covatti, slowly away, hit the dirt line around the opening turns, shooting down the back straight to pass both Howarth and Grobauer in one move, only to lose his place at the third bend and dropped to the back again. Howarth took Grobauer almost at the same moment, before going on to record the Bandits first maximum advantage, despite some hard chasing from Grobauer. Covatti appeared to have machine problems as he slowed and then retired late in the race.

In many ways, Heat 6 was, understandably, somewhat uneventful. Rory Schlein flashed from the tapes to lead at the first bend from Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen and Todd Kurtz. With Schlein in the van, Kurtz cutback inside at the bend to challenge Busk Jakobsen but was just unable to join his partner at the front. From the second lap, Schlein pulled further and further away, until taking the flag with an extremely long lead. Kurtz closed on Busk Jakobsen late in the piece but could not find a sound challenge for the Bandits man. The watching crowd could see that Schlein was fast but didn't realise how fast until the time was announced as a new track record at 55.12 seconds, just over half a second quicker than the old best mark.

Chris Harris contested the run from the tapes with Kevin Doolan in Heat 7, with Doolan just getting the advantage into the bend, only to see Harris stick it out wide and power by as the pair exited the next turn. Danny Gappmaier got the better of Anders Rowe early on but the young Rebel chased the current Austrian Champion hard but couldn't get close enough to chance a pass. Meanwhile, Harris was travelling a warp speed and pulling further away with every lap, taking the flag almost a quarter of a lap in front. Many watchers thought Harris may have set another track record but he just missed out, recording 55.72 seconds, just a fraction outside the old record.

With the scores level at 21-21, the Bandits jumped into the lead with their second 'Full House' of the night in Heat 8, and the person who took the win, was none other than the flying Jye Etheridge, who posted his third win on the spin, when he ran to the turn alongside his race partner, Leon Flint, where the pair squeezed out the pressing Henry Atkins into the bargain. Todd Kurtz cut hard inside Flint at the third bend but could not make it stick. He kept on pressing, challenging on the outside of the third curve of the final lap and then cutting back inside on the final bend but again Flint held him off to take the maximum advantage behind the rapid Etheridge. That maximum advantage saw the Bandits jump into a precious four-point lead at the halfway stage of the meeting.

Heat 9 was shared when Nico Covatti got the better of a tight battle to the bend with Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen. Coty Garcia quickly passed Busk Jakobsen on the back straight and set to challenging Covatti, but his fellow Argentinian was too strong for him and held off the attack, before going on to a comfortable win. Valentin Grobauer got a lift off the gate and found himself in last place at the turn. He was soon into his stride and quickly closed on Busk Jakobsen after the first lap, Try as he might, he couldn't get fully on terms with his rival and despite pressing all the way, he couldn't find a passing opportunity.

Heat 10 signalled a shift in the direction of the match, with the Rebels starting to assert dominance over their Borders adversaries. Danny Gappmaier bolted from the traps to lead the field at the first bend. Rory Schlein was just last away from the gate but at the turn, he moved wide into the dirt and came with a wet sail down the back straight, passing the whole field by the time they had reached the third bend. Todd Kurtz settled into third place in front of Bandits captain, Kevin Doolan and had a relatively easy run, barring a brief challenge from Doolan down the back side of the circuit on the second lap. Gappmaier tried but was unable to catch the speedy Schlein after the opening lap. With that, the Rebels posted an advantage that saw them close the gap on their opponents to just two points.

Heat 11 took two attempts to get underway. The first effort was aborted when Kyle Howarth's premature departure destroyed the tapes, earning the Ashton-under-Lyne born rider an exclusion. Rather than take the 15-metre handicap, the Bandits replaced Howarth with Leon Flint for the re-run. Chris Harris was extremely quick from the gate, leading from Flint and Jye Etheridge before the curve. Anders Rowe, who was last into his stride, cut back into the kerb at the first bend, getting upsides Etheridge until the Australian, with the better line, got his nose back in front of Rowe. With Harris in the wind, pulling away from the second lap, Rowe tried in vain to get at Etheridge but ultimately the heat ran out with shared points.

The Rebels were back in advantage territory in Heat 12, with a flying start from Valentin Grobauer, living up to his nickname of 'The Rocket'. Grobauer led from the tapes, with Coty Garcia, Anders Rowe, in for Henry Atkins, and Kevin Doolan, three abreast at the turn, in behind. Garcia threw in a challenge to Grobauer, on the wide line, at the three-quarter mark of the lap only to be repelled as they headed into the home straight. Once he had shaken off Garcia, Grobauer was in complete command and never looked like losing his lead, pulling a clear gap from the second lap onwards. Behind the pair, Rowe was easily dealing with a lacklustre Kevin Doolan, taking third place to Grobauer's win.

Heat 13 was full of incident, and that was before the race even started. With the riders almost ready to start, and the two-minute clock quickly running down, Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen's bike stopped. With him and his mechanic trying frantically to push start it back into life, the two minutes ran out and Busk Jakobsen was excluded, to be replaced by Coty Garcia. When the tapes rose, Rory Schlein was ballistic from the gate, only to have the race called back, with Schlein receiving a warning for moving. As the riders came back to the tapes, Chris Harris found he too had mechanical problems. His bike was taken back to the pits and with only seconds left before a possible exclusion, Todd Kurtz's machine appeared on track.

The race finally got underway at the third attempt, with Schlein again making a lightning start to lead up. He was followed into the bend by Kyle Howarth and Coty Garcia, with Harris trailing in last place. Down the back straight, Harris caught Garcia, moving to his outside to deliver a challenge, only to find the door ruthlessly slammed shut in his face, as he was squeezed hard against the fence. He dropped a long way back again but undeterred he began to steadily close the gap on Garcia, then, amid rising cheers from the Rebels, fans he executed a superb move on the final turn of the race to grab third place on the run to the line, giving the Rebels a two-point lead on the night. It was typical 'Bomber' fare, never beaten until it's all over.

The Rebels extended their lead to four points with another 4-2 advantage in the very next heat. Nico Covatti was third away from the tapes, with Danny Gappmaier and Anders Rowe leading up. Moving out to the wide line, Covatti swept into the lead with a powerful run around the curve, hitting the front halfway along the back straight. Rowe threw in his challenge for second place, as he negotiated the second bend, but Gappmaier was alert to his move and resisted his attack. Meanwhile, Covatti established a good lead, although he was closed down by Gappmaier in the latter stages of the race it was never enough to see his lead threatened. Leon Flint never got in a blow at any stage of the race. Covatti ended his night being unbeaten in the three races he had completed, with his second ride retirement the only blot on his scorecard.

The final race of the night came to the tapes with Kyle Howarth and Jye Etheridge as the Bandits nominations, with Garry May sending out his top two, Rory Schlein and Chris Harris. May could have used Nico Covatti, had he wished to but the Rebels returnee had jarred his shoulder in an earlier race and sat it out. The reason Covatti may have been considered was that Harris was still suffering machinery problems, highlighted by the fact that he appeared on the start line on Valentin Grobauer bike.

As in Heat 13, Schlein rocketed from the gate, with Howarth trying to contest the run to the curve, without success. Jye Etheridge came next; with Harris again last into his stride. If the watching Rebels fans feared the worst, they had calculated without the 'Bomber' effect. By the back straight, he had swept by and then repeated the feat as they ran back to the start line for the first time, relegating Howarth to third and joining Schlein in the van. The pair pulled away, both riding the fence, to round out the meeting, ironically, with the 'Cases' Somerset Rebels first maximum advantage of the night. Harris doesn't seem to worry about what machine he's riding, he just gives it all he's got and there are times that you feel he could ride a Weston-super-Mare donkey and still win the race.

Berwick had given the Rebels a good test, keeping it tight, leading the tie from Heat 5 to Heat 10, before the home side got into top gear to pull away with a burst of scoring over the last half a dozen heats. They posted 24-points to the Bandits 12-points, in a run containing five heat advantages and one shared heat. In the final analysis, the Bandits were let down by what can only be described as some anonymous performances from their normal big hitters, whilst on the other side of the equation, Jye Etheridge was a revelation, top scoring for the visitors with a superb 10+1, with some good support from reserves, Coty Garcia posting 7-points and Leon Flint with 5+1.

Nico Covatti marked his return to the side with a full 9-point haul from his three completed races. Chris Harris was next up, posting 12+1, despite machinery problems, which saw him compete and score points in two races, on other people's bikes. Top of the shop, for the second week running, was Rory Schlein, with a 14-point return that included a stunning new track record, whilst dropping just a single point to an opponent. His performance won him the Somerset 'Rider of the Night' award, from meeting sponsors, The Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare.

The Rebels next home action is in two weeks, on July 31, when the Glasgow Tigers are the opponents, who will include, the now former track record holder, Craig Cook. Before that date comes around the Rebels will be on the road, with scheduled encounters at Berwick (July 20), Birmingham (July 24) and Eastbourne (July 27).

Meeting statistics

Somerset Rebels - 49

1. Rory Schlein - 2, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 14

2. Todd Kurtz - 1*, 1, 1, 1 = 4+1

3. Valentin Grobauer - 1, 1, 0, 3 = 5

4. Nico Covatti - 3, R, 3, 3 = 9

5. Chris Harris - 3, 3, 3, 1, 2* = 12+1

6. Anders Rowe - 2, 0, 0, 1, 1 = 4

7. Henry Atkins - 0, 1, 0 = 1

Berwick Bandits - 41

1. Kyle Howarth (G) - 0, 2*, X, 2, 1 = 5+1

2. Jye Etheridge - 3, 3, 3, 1*, 0 = 10+1

3. Kevin Doolan - 2, 2, 0, 0 = 4

4. Dany Gappmaier - 0, 1*, 2, 2 = 5+1

5. Nikolaj B. Jakobsen - 2, 2, 1*, X = 5+1

6. Coty Garcia - 3, 0, 2, 2, 0 = 7

7. Leon Flint - 1, 0, 2*, 2, 0 = 5+1

SCB Referee: Jim McGregor

Heat Results

Heat 01: Etheridge, Schlein, Kurtz, Howarth. (3-3) (3-3) 56.09

Heat 02: Garcia, Rowe, Flint, Atkins. (2-4) (5-7) 56.62

Heat 03: Covatti, Doolan, Grobauer, Gappmaier. (4-2) (9-9) 56.35

Heat 04: Harris, Jakobsen, Atkins, Flint. (4-2) (13-11) 57.06

Heat 05: Etheridge, Howarth, Grobauer, Covatti (Retired). (1-5) (14-16) 56.10

Heat 06: Schlein, Jakobsen, Kurtz, Garcia. (4-2) (18-18) 55.12 (Track Record)

Heat 07: Harris, Doolan, Gappmaier, Rowe. (3-3) (21-21) 55.72

Heat 08: Etheridge, Flint, Kurtz, Atkins. (1-5) (22-26) 56.72

Heat 09: Covatti, Garcia, Jakobsen, Grobauer. (3-3) (25-29) 57.13

Heat 10: Schlein, Gappmaier, Kurtz, Doolan. (4-2) (29-31) 56.88

Heat 11: (Re-Run) Harris, Flint, Etheridge, Rowe. (3-3) (32-34) 56.63

Heat 12: Grobauer, Garcia, Rowe, Doolan. (4-2) (36-36) 57.06

Heat 13: (Re-Run) Schlein (Warned), Howarth, Harris, Garcia. (4-2) (40-38) 56.40

Heat 14: Covatti, Gappmaier, Rowe, Flint. (4-2) (44-40) 58.22

Heat 15: Schlein, Harris, Howarth, Etheridge. (5-1) (49-41) 56.88

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