Somerset Rebels race to victory over Eastbourne Eagles
PUBLISHED: 09:46 27 April 2019
The ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels were 52-38 winners when they entertained the Eastbourne Eagles in the Rebels last Championship Shield, Southern Group fixture, writes Dave Thompson.
Garry May and his team were determined to avenge their crushing defeat, by the same opponents, at Arlington just 11 days earlier.
Whilst the Eagles had been dominant in their opening three outings, all of those matchups had been on their home Arlington shale, this would be their first foray outside of Sussex this season.
The Rebels received some good news earlier in the week, with skipper Chris Harris confirming he would be back in Rebels colours following his accident in the last meeting of these two sides and his subsequent operation to have his broken scaphoid screwed. On the negative side, Rebels Number One Rory Schlein was decidedly under the weather and feeling distinctly second hand.
Leading up to the match, the weather had been playing games, with heavy rain in the early part of the day, but the local forecast came good when the rain stopped on schedule, at around 3pm, and with over four hours until tapes up, the sun making an appearance and a stiff breeze blowing across the track, the track staff had the surface in racing condition well before the 'Off', if a little heavier and with a bit more grip than normal. Despite this, the ensuing race times proved that the 'natural watering' that the track had received, made a fast racetrack when the action got underway.
The Eagles won the toss and elected to take Gates 1 and 3 but it was the Rebels who made the better start in the opener. Todd Kurtz, as he had done in the Rebels last home fixture, burst from the gates to lead up and clamp the opponent on his inner, Ben Morley, to the kerb.
As Kurtz led around the turn, he was soon joined on the outside by Rory Schlein. The pair then proceeded to pull away from their adversaries to post a maximum advantage, with Edward Kennett giving chase but never getting close enough to deliver a meaningful blow.
The Eagles mitigated that setback in the next heat when their duo of Georgie Wood and Tom Brennan leapt from the gates to lead the way to the turn. For a while, it appeared that they would nullify the Rebels opening result as they headed towards the back straight, but as they exited the second turn Anders Rowe slipped up the inside of Brennan to give chase to Wood. He closed down Wood until catching him at the third turn of Lap3 but his challenge failed as he almost ran up the back wheel of the Eagles man's machine.
For the next three heats, neither side could gain an advantage, with all three races shared. Firstly Heat 3 saw Nico Covatti make a premature start and ram the tapes. Garry May sent him back into the fray, off a 15-metre handicap, with Valentin Grobauer moving across into gate two. When the tapes rose a second time, Grobauer trapped together with the Eagles pairing of Lewis Kerr and Alfie Bowtell, with Kerr just getting the upper hand at the bend. Grobauer moved Bowtell wide and then proceeded to cut back down the back straight to power by Kerr inside the third curve. With the German flyer now in control, Covatti was trying to chase down Bowtell but try as he might, and despite closing, he had made no real impression on the youngster at the flag fall.
Henry Atkins made up for his last place in his opening ride when charging of the tapes, in Heat 4 to lead up Richard Lawson, who is no mean trapper himself. Lawson was quick down the back straight, dispatching Atkins before the third bend. Chris Harris was close on the tail of the Rebels teenager and the pair chased Lawson for all four laps. Whilst Harris looked fast, he appeared to get hampered by Atkins but he also didn't help his own cause when making a mistake that put paid to his chances of catching the Cumbrian born speedster.
Heat 5 saw Valentin Grobauer take a big lift off the tapes, but despite this misfortune, he still led into the curve, with Edward Kennett on his tail. Had it not been for Grobauer's excessive drive off the line, he may have had a bigger lead to play with and to exploit, but as it was, the Eagles skipper moved wide, powering around the outside to grab the lead off the third turn. Grobauer stuck to Kennett throughout and as they headed to the final turns he produced a power-packed run, closing on Kennett with every turn of his wheels, only just failing to depose the Eagles hot shot from first place. Nico Covatti took care of Ben Morley early on and filled the minor place.
The Rebels were first to break the deadlock, with a heat advantage in the next race, when Rory Schlein came from behind the fast-starting Richard Lawson to take the win. Lawson bolted from the gate to lead up with ease but Schlein was soon on his tail, putting in a sustained run out wide, from the third bend, before sweeping past the former Rebel as they entered the first turn of lap 2, to ease away to win comfortably. Todd Kurtz held an untroubled third place to give the home side the heat advantage and a 4-point lead in the match.
Heat 7 added to the shared list when Chris Harris shot from the tapes to lead up on the outside of Lewis Kerr. Harris made light of this early pressure as he headed for the dirt, putting it to good use with a commanding run to go clear down the back straight. Anders Rowe made a very slow start and although he closed on Alfie Bowtell, he was unable to get into a challenging position.
The Eagles took an unexpected heat advantage in Heat 8 to cut the home sides lead back to just two points. Whilst Todd Kurtz completely missed the break, Henry Atkins challenged for the lead between Ben Morley and Tom Brennan. At the second turn, Atkins was squeezed out as Brennan claimed second place. Undeterred, the Devon based youngster kept up to the task, and a lap later he was challenging Brennan for the runner up spot.
As the entered the third bend, he dived up the inside, shooting by the Eagles man with some comfort. He then set about Morley at the front, closing him down before conjuring up a charging run around the final turns of the race. As the flag approached he closed inch-by-inch, but the line came just a fraction too soon. Kurtz couldn't recover from his tardy start and never got in a blow.
Heat 9 saw the points shared when Richard Lawson flashed from the tapes to lead every inch of the way. Valentin Grobauer and Nico Covatti came next, with Grobauer providing the challenge to the leader. Whilst he never got close enough to topple Lawson, he was close enough to keep him honest and capitalise if the leader made a significant mistake. Georgie Wood was never in the hunt and retired whilst a long way back on the final lap.
The Rebels extended their lead to 6-points in Heat 10, with a dominant 'Full House' from Rory Schlein and Todd Kurtz. The pair blazed from the gates to just lead up from Lewis Kerr and never looked back, despite the early close proximity of their opponent. Schlein went clear with Kurtz cosily holding off Kerr.
The final shared heat of the night came in Heat 11, as Chris Harris made another fast start to challenge Edward Kennett to the turn, where the Eagles top man just held the lead. However, it was Harris who won the battle of the skippers as he was forced out wide by Kennett. He turned the move to his advantage with a wide out run around the fence to charge to the front exiting the second turn. Harris stayed wide for the whole race, pulling away as the laps ticked off. Anders Rowe chased down Ben Morley after making a slow start, and although he narrowed the gap, he was never close enough to trouble the Essex born man.
Trailing by 6-points, the Eagles took the Tactical Substitute option in Heat 12, drafting in Richard Lawson for Georgie Wood. Sharpness at the gate won the day for the Eagles, with Lewis Kerr and Lawson blasting into an early lead. Once there Kerr made the best of his way home, but Lawson had his hands full, with Valentin Grobauer closing him down and throwing in a big challenge on the second lap. Although he held off his challenger, Lawson had to stay up to his mettle to ensure the Eagles cut the Somerset lead back to just a couple of points.
Back in the pits after the twelfth heat, Garry May gathered his troops for a council of war, and whatever he said did the trick, as the Rebels finished the meeting in emphatic style, reeling off three maximum advantages of the trot. Rory Schlein made the initial break from the tapes in Heat 13, with Edward Kennett and Chris Harris in close attendance. Harris headed for the dirt line, laying down a blazing run to pass both Kennett and then Schlein, to hit the front. Once at the front, Harris and Schlein were in full control of the battle, leaving the visiting pair floundering in their wake, putting the Rebels on the brink of a win in the tie.
Garry May switched his reserves in Heat 14, and it produced the desired effect. Henry Atkins replaced Anders Rowe and made light work of the start, as he rocketed from the traps to lead up with race partner Nico Covatti in close contention. The pair swapped places a couple of times, until Covatti locked up slightly at the end of the second lap, handing a narrow advantage back to Atkins. That was the race in a nutshell, with Tom Brennan and Alfie Bowtell never getting in the hunt, as Atkins took the win.
The nominated Heat 15 was a virtual repeat of Heat 13, with the exception of Lewis Kerr replacing Edward Kennett. Rory Schlein took the early lead from the gate, with Harris and Lawson in close contention. As Edward Kennett had done in Heat 11, Lawson ran Harris very wide in the turn. On Harris's part, as he had done in his battle with Kennett, he used the forceful manoeuvre against his opponent, charging wide around the fence line to dispatch Lawson to third place before joining Schlein at the front. Once there, it was race over as far as the Eagles were concerned, with the Rebels duo running away to an easy victory.
The late unanswered volley from the Rebels had propelled them to a 14-point victory, 52-38, to put them at the head of the group.
The Eagles will now have to win at Birmingham on May 1, to stop Somerset progressing, by right, to the semi-finals.
Eastbourne had fought hard and made the home side work for their success. Richard Lawson was the star of their septet, with 12+1 from his six rides, and until Heat 13, he had dropped only one point to an opponent.
On the Rebels side of the pits, there were several superb performances. Firstly Rory Schlein battling through illness to post a fabulous paid maximum of 13+2, the first home maximum to be recorded at the Oaktree Arena since Jason Doyle went unbeaten in four rides against Kings Lynn last September. Chris Harris was close behind, with 13+1, only dropping two points to the opposition with a third place in his first ride, before following up with three straight wins. Henry Atkins again showed his liking to his home circuit with a creditable 7-points, including another heat win. Valentin Grobauer in only his second ever home meeting for the Rebels posted eight points, which on the surface, may not look anything special.
However, considering that this is his very first season in the UK, his progress has been superb and on the evening he had raced tenaciously, gathering a race win, two second places and a third and had compensated for a rare off night for his race partner, Nico Covatti.
Whilst any one of the top four scorers could have carried it off, it was Grobauer, who deservedly took the Somerset 'Rider of the Night' award, something which, if he continues to progress in a similar vein, he will almost certainly be receiving it again before the season is out.
The Rebels now move on to the restaging of the 20th Season Anniversary meeting against Poole Pirates, next Wednesday, May 1, after the original date fell to the weather. That will be followed a week later by the first round of the Championship KO Cup against the Redcar Bears.
Somerset Rebels - 52
1. Rory Schlein - 3, 3, 3, 2*, 2* = 13+2
2. Todd Kurtz - 2*, 1, 0, 2* = 5+2
3. Valentin Grobauer - 3, 2, 2, 1 = 8
4. Nico Covatti - 0, 1*, 1*, 2* = 4+3
5. Chris Harris - 1*, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 13+1
6. Anders Rowe - 2, 0, 0 = 2
7. Henry Atkins - 0, 2, 2, 0, 3 = 7
Eastbourne Eagles - 38
1. Edward Kennett - 1, 3, 2, 0 = 6
2. Ben Morley - 0, 0, 3, 1* = 4+1
3. Lewis Kerr - 2, 2, 1, 3, 0 = 8
4. Alfie Bowtell - 1*, 1*, 0, 0 = 2+2
5. Richard Lawson - 3, 2, 3, 2*, 1, 1 = 12+1
6. Georgie Wood - 3, 0, R = 3
7. Tom Brennan - 1, 0, 1, 1 = 3
SCB Referee: Chris Durno
Heat 01: Schlein, Kurtz, Kennett, Morley (5-1) (5-1) 58.62
Heat 02: Wood, Rowe, Brennan, Atkins (2-4) (7-5) 58.88
Heat 03: Grobauer, Kerr, Bowtell, Covatti (3-3) (10-8) 58.13
Heat 04: Lawson, Atkins, Harris, Brennan (3-3) (13-11) 57.81
Heat 05: Kennett, Grobauer, Covatti, Morley (3-3) (16-14) 57.32
Heat 06: Schlein, Lawson, Kurtz, Wood (4-2) (20-16)
Heat 07: Harris, Kerr, Bowtell, Rowe (3-3) (23-19) 58.19
Heat 08: Morley, Atkins, Brennan, Kurtz (2-4) (25-23) 59.02
Heat 09: Lawson, Grobauer, Covatti, Wood (Ret) (3-3) (28-26) 57.94
Heat 10: Schlein, Kurtz, Kerr, Bowtell (5-1) (33-27) 58.81
Heat 11: Harris, Kennett, Morley, Rowe (3-3) (36-30) 58.50
Heat 12: Kerr, Lawson (Tac Sub for Wood), Grobauer, Atkins (1-5) (37-35) 58.62
Heat 13: Harris, Schlein, Lawson, Kennett (5-1) (42-36) 58.35
Heat 14: Atkins, Covatti, Brennan, Bowtell (5-1) (47-37) 59.34
Heat 15: Harris, Schlein, Lawson, Kerr (5-1) (52-38) 58.25