Somerset Rebels race to home victory over Birmingham Brummies
PUBLISHED: 08:50 13 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:57 13 April 2019
On the first Thursday of April the Oaktree Arena circuit was awash with the water as a result of a huge rainstorm, which caused the cancellation of the ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels 20th Season Anniversary Challenge meeting against the Poole Pirates, writes Dave Thompson.
Just one week on and fans were greeted by a cloudless blue sky, although the temperature certainly didn’t match the beauty of the afternoon sun, with supporters well wrapped up against the cold.
Wednesday saw the Rebels making their first competitive appearance of the season and giving full Somerset debuts to Rory Schlein, skipper Chris Harris, former Rebels mascot Henry Atkins, Anders Rowe and Valentin Grobauer, who was also making his UK debut. The Rebels opponents in this SGB Championship Shield fixture were the Birmingham Brummies, who, unlike the Rebels, already had two previous outings under their belts and also featured two former Rebels in Kyle Newman and Zach Wajtknecht.
Under the bright sunshine, after almost a week of inclement weather, the Oaktree race circuit looked in tip-top condition, a fact underlined when Todd Kurtz flashed off gate two to leave everyone else in his wake, as he recorded a blindingly fast 56.25sec win. Behind him, Rory Schlein caught a bad lift at the start, having to battle his way past Brummies new boy Tobias Thomsen before setting off in pursuit of Ulrich Østergaard. He chased down the experienced Dane, almost getting on terms late in the piece, but found he had just too much to do before the flag fall.
The Brummies struck back immediately in Heat 2 after a nervous Anders Rowe ploughed into the tapes at the start and had to go off 15 metres. Paco Castagna and Brummies skipper James Shanes took immediate advantage, just out trapping Henry Atkins off the line. Rowe made the best of his situation, quickly getting on terms with the rest of the field. The Midlands pairing soon had the race under control and as much as they tried the two young Rebels couldn’t find a way to the front, to prevent the visitors from recording a ‘Full House’.
Another Birmingham heat advantage followed when Ashley Morris just got the better of Nico Covatti to the turn. The Argentinian, unbeaten in his home Championship this year, set off in what eventually turned out to be a fruitless pursuit, although Morris had to keep up to his work to ensure he held onto first place. Valentin Grobauer’s debut ride didn’t pan out the way he had hoped, as he missed the gate and had to battle hard on all four laps to rid himself of the last place, but to no avail. If Rebels fans were worried about the U.K. debutant’s performance, he was to soon put those fears to rest in his next ride.
If Henry Atkins was out trapped in his first ride, he made no mistake in Heat 4, where he blazed from the traps alongside his skipper, Chris Harris. Kyle Newman came next and was all over the back of the Rebels pairing, making an exciting, if a somewhat nervy, spectacle for the home fans. Harris played his captains role to perfection, planting himself on the outside line as he left the inner to his young and pacey partner. Roared on by the crowd the pair and in particular, Harris, rode a superb team race, holding off the persistent Newman to flash over the line absolutely together for a maximum advantage. To the great delight of the crowd, when the result was announced it was Atkins, making his SGB Championship debut, who had taken his maiden Rebels win, recording a very respectable 57.75sec to level the scores at 12-12.
The home side quickly followed up with two more heat advantages, with Valentin Grobauer showing exactly what he is capable of, with a lightning start that emulated his Twitter handle of @VGRocket. In a flash he had the race under control, taking the shortest way around the Highbridge circuit, and when he was challenged, he quickly spotted the danger and changed his line to ensure he covered any attempt to pass him. Nico Covatti and Ulrich Østergaard battled for early position in second place, but it was Østergaard who just had the better run around the turn. Covatti pressed all the way to keep the Birmingham man honest but unfortunately couldn’t find a way into second place.
This was quickly followed up by a Heat 6 ‘Full House’, from Rory Schlein and Todd Kurtz. Both were very quickly into their stride, squeezing out Kyle Newman on the run to the turn. That was the story of the race as the pair breezed to an unflustered win.
With the Rebels now 6-points to the good, the match entered a period of stalemate as neither side could take a decisive advantage, with the next five heats being shared. That didn’t mean that racing was poor, far from it, with some interesting battles throughout.
Heat 7 saw Zach Wajtknecht make the early running from Chris Harris, leading out the opening lap until Harris made a positive move up his inner, through the first two turns of lap two. Behind the pair, Anders Rowe pressed Ashley Morris hard and was unlucky to catch him twice, just at the wrong time and ending up having his run blocked.
The Brummies made a reserve switch in Heat 8, bringing in Paco Castagna in place of James Shanes. The move was partly successful; in that Castagna beat Todd Kurtz to the drop and got the better run to the bend, to give him the early lead. Kurtz chased the Italian hard, but couldn’t make an impression after the opening lap. Henry Atkins held off a sustained challenge from Tobias Thomsen, when the young Dane got alongside the Devon-based rider on lap two, with the pair racing almost side-by-side over the last three laps.
Lawrence Rogers again switched his reserves in the following heat, with Shanes in for Castagna. Kyle Newman and Nico Covatti contested the run to the first curve, where Newman got the upper hand. Behind them, Shanes and Valentin Grobauer were neck and neck until Grobauer ran too wide out of the second turn. As the leaders approached the third bend, Newman left a gap up the inner, and Covatti accepted the invitation with some relish, charging through to hit the front at pace, before going on to take the chequered flag in some comfort. Meanwhile, Grobauer was all over the back of Shanes, trying every line to find a way by, but the Dorchester born rider just held him off at the line.
The Rebels looked to have broken the scoring deadlock in Heat 10 when Rory Schlein came from behind Ashley Morris, who had led the Australian over the first lap and Todd Kurtz beat Zach Wajtknecht to the bend to lay third. Just as it looked as though the Rebels would take the heat, Kurtz’ rear chain gave up the ghost, damaging the engine casing in the process, handing the Brummies a shared heat.
Still 6-points in arrears, the Brummies threw in Ashley Morris as a tactical substitute in Heat 11, with Tobias Thomsen the one to give way, but it was his partner, Ulrich Østergaard, who provided the early challenge to Rebels skipper, Chris Harris. Anders Rowe again pressed Morris early in the affair and as in their earlier battle, Morris just held the upper hand. Morris, putting distance between himself and the Rebels youngster, then moved into second place but had no answer to Harris, who easily pulled clear of his opponents to record the win.
The deadlock was broken in fine fashion in Heat 12 when Valentin ‘The Rocket’ Grobauer made another lightning start to lead, out wide, through the opening turns. He then proceeded to explore the outer reaches of the Oaktree circuit, racing out in the dirt by the air fence, until the closing stages of the final lap. Henry Atkins was last out of the opening turns but was always in touch. He stuck to the back wheel of Paco Castagna, working away to find a way into third place. As they ran out of the second bend of Lap 3, Atkins pounced amid loud cheers from the home support, with a superb move to relegate Castagna to last place and give the Rebels an advantage for the first time since Heat 6.
That seemed to signal the breaking of the dam, being the first of three heat advantages in the last four heats for the Rebels. The next came in Heat 13, where Rory Schlein, with a rapid start, got the better of Ulrich Østergaard to the turn and go on to record an effortless win. Meanwhile, Chris Harris fell out of the traps and then in true ‘Bomber’ fashion went seeking the dirt in the final turns of the lap. Still running out by the fence, he powered around Kyle Newman in the opening curves of the third lap, setting off in pursuit of Østergaard at the same time. Inch by inch he slowly reeled him in but time ran out on him, despite a big run to close the Brummies ‘Number One’ down on the run to the line.
Heat 14 was shared, with Nico Covatti leading out wide in the first two bends of the opener, with Ashley Morris in second spot. Covatti went on to take a comfortable win, whilst behind them, Anders Rowe showed his battling qualities as he went head to head with James Shanes, with the pair passing and repassing each other in the early stages until Shanes was just able to eke out a lead to ensure a shared heat.
If Harris’s performance in Heat 13 was good, his ride in the final nominated heat was even better. Once again, partnering Rory Schlein, he was left at the start. As Schlein led Ulrich Østergaard out of the second turn, with Ashley Morris in third, Harris was making big strides from the back. As they headed out for Lap 2, Harris was hurtling around the outside and coming off the second bend he steamed past Morris and immediately switched to the inside and stormed under Østergaard at the very next turn. Once in second place, he pulled clear of his two opponents to take a well-earned maximum advantage behind his teammate and give his side a 52-38 victory on the evening, against a team that had already had two outings prior to this matchup.
After an early nervousness, the ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels settled down to the task in hand, with some encouraging performances throughout the team, in particular, Valentin Grobauer and Henry Atkins. Grobauer took two superb wins with lightning starts but showed that he is not just all about starting, showing a battling style in his other two races. Atkins, who has probably done more laps around the Oaktree circuit than the rest of the team put together, was always on the pace and in fact, with his Heat 4 win, showed that he is also quick around his home track. Anders Rowe had a shaky start and, by his own admission, he was very nervous but settled down to show that he has plenty of potential. As you would expect the rest of the team put in solid performances, with Chris Harris already showing his captains influence on the younger element, with his team riding with Atkins in their Heat 4 ‘Full House’.
The meeting was sponsored by one of the Rebels long term sponsors, TQ Exel Ltd. Company owner, Sam Abbot, was tasked with choosing the Somerset ‘Rider of the Night’ and even as the final heat had finished, he was unable to choose between Chris Harris, Valentin Grobauer and Henry Atkins. After much deliberation, he eventually plumped for Henry Atkins but admitted that it was an extremely difficult choice.
‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels now travel to Eastbourne on Saturday evening for the next match in the Championship Shield, before another road trip to Birmingham next Wednesday for the reverse of this fixture. The next on-track action at the Oaktree Arena will be on Good Friday, the 19th April, when fans get to cast their eyes over some of the talents that will form the base of the stars of tomorrow, in the second Semi-Final of the British Under 21 Championship. Henry Atkins will represent the Rebels, whilst Anders Rowe will do the same, on the Isle of Wight, on the previous evening.
Somerset Rebels - 52
1. Rory Schlein -- 1, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 13
2. Todd Kurtz -- 3, 2*, 2, R = 7+1
3. Valentin Grobauer -- 0, 3, 0, 3 = 6
4. Nico Covatti -- 2, 1, 3, 3 = 9
5. Chris Harris -- 2*, 3, 3, 1, 2* = 11+2
6. Anders Rowe -- 0, 0, 0, 0 = 0
7. Henry Atkins -- 1, 3, 1*, 1 = 6+1
Birmingham Brummies - 38
1. Ulrich Østergaard -- 2, 2, 1*, 2, 1 = 8+1
2. Tobias Thomsen -- 0, 0, 0 = 0
3. Zach Wajtknecht -- 1, 2, 1*, 2 = 6+1
4. Ashley Morris -- 3, 1*, 2, 2^, 2, 0 = 10+1
5. Kyle Newman -- 1, 1, 2, 0 = 4
6. Paco Castagna -- 3, 0, 3, 0 = 6
7. James Shanes -- 2*, 0, 1*, 1* = 4+3
SCB Referee: David Robinson
Heat 01: Kurtz, Østergaard, Schlein, Thomsen (4-2) (4-2) 56.25
Heat 02: Castagna, Shanes, Atkins, Rowe (1-5) (5-7) 57.59
Heat 03: Morris, Covatti, Wajtknecht, Grobauer (2-4) (7-11) 57.50
Heat 04: Atkins, Harris, Newman, Shanes (5-1) (12-12) 57.76
Heat 05: Grobauer, Østergaard, Covatti, Thomsen (4-2) (16-14) 57.38
Heat 06: Schlein, Kurtz, Newman, Castagna (5-1) (21-15) 57.31
Heat 07: Harris, Wajtknecht, Morris, Rowe (3-3) (24-18) 57.69
Heat 08: Castagna (in for Shanes), Kurtz, Atkins, Thomsen (3-3) (27-21) 59.06
Heat 09: Covatti, Newman, Shanes (In for Castagna), Grobauer (3-3) (30-24) 58.06
Heat 10: Schlein, Morris, Wajtknecht, Kurtz (R) (3-3) (33-27) 57.68
Heat 11: Harris, Morris (Tactical), Østergaard, Rowe (3-3) (36-30) 58.19
Heat 12: Grobauer, Wajtknecht, Atkins, Castagna (4-2) (40-32) 58.12
Heat 13: Schlein, Østergaard, Harris, Newman (4-2) (44-34) 58.25
Heat 14: Covatti, Morris, Shanes, Rowe (3-3) (47-37) 58.69
Heat 15: Schlein, Harris, Østergaard, Morris (5-1) (52-38) 58.31