Redcar Bears 40 Newcastle Diamonds 50

THE meeting started well enough and Lasse Bjerre served notice on the rest of the Premier League that he’s a fast and fearless No 1 – but it ended up being another miserable night for Redcar Bears.

The Ecco Finishing Bears were beaten 50-40 by derby rivals Newcastle Diamonds in the Premier League and are still looking for their first win of the year.

It’s still early days – very early days – and it would be wrong to write the season off already, but you do fear it could be a long, hard campaign.

It had all looked so promising after heat one.

Bjerre, who dropped only two points all night – both to former Bear Steve Worrall – was passed by Christian Henry but battled his way back to the front before Jan Graversen also got the better of Henry to chalk up a big 5-1.

The visitors cut the gap by two points after Rafal Konopka got out of shape while leading and allowed Simon Nielsen past in the second attempt at running heat two.

The first attempt ended with Ben Morley being harshly excluded for going down at the first bend. Referee Dave Dowling reckoned there had been no contact but the number of missing spokes in Morley’s front wheel after the spill suggested otherwise. It’s been a tough start to the season for Morley but he didn’t deserve that.

The Diamonds sank their teeth into Jitendra Duffill’s men with a 5-1 in heat three to take the lead for the first time and after that you couldn’t really see a way back for the Bears.

Race wins weren’t a major issue for the hosts, but they simply didn’t have the strength in depth to turn drawn heats into heat advantages.

The tipping point came when the visitors were handed a 5-0 in the twice restarted heat seven. First Konopka was thrown out – again harshly – for going down as he exited the first bend and then Matej Kus suffered the same fate for a spill in a similar spot, leaving Lewis Kerr and Anton Rose the simple task of just staying on to extend their side’s lead by five points.

The Newcastle 5-1 that followed meant the Bears could use the black and white tactical helmet colour and team boss Duffill produced it straight away, with Kus the man to don it.

In the event it had only limited effect, with Kus finishing third. He would have doubled his two-point return from that race, though, had Hugh Skidmore not made the schoolboy error of simply forgetting his team-mate was in black and white and not even looking behind him, let alone letting him past. When the chips are down you could do without that sort of situation.

When Bjerre flew round Rosen next time out to partner Graversen to a 5-1 it cut the gap to six points and sparked hopes of an unlikely revival.

Then when Bjerre and Konopka shot to the front in the next heat those hopes were raised even higher, but the Pole was passed by first Worrall and then Henry.

Thereafter it was only going to end one way, especially with Worrall finding his top game and lowering Bjerre’s colours in heats 13 and 15.

There’s no getting away from it, this was a disappointing performance from the Bears.

They are still missing injured skipper Stuart Robson and would almost certainly have scored more with him in the team than the five points they took from the rider replacement facility. Bjerre had an outstanding night, you can’t really knock Kus for two victories so soon after a painful shoulder injury and Graversen did more than his job as a second string – but after that the simple fact is that they weren’t good enough.

BEARS: Lasse Bjerre 14+2, Jan Graversen 10+1, Matej Kus 8+1, Hugh Skidmore 5, Rafal Konopka 2 Ben Morley 1+1, R/R for Stuart Robson.

DIAMONDS: Steve Worrall 9+1, Ludvig Lindgren 9, Simon Nielsen 8+3, Anton Rosen 8+2, Lewis Kerr 8, Christian Henry 7+1, Luke Crang 1

Redcar Bears 36 Workington Comets 56

LOOKING on the bright side, things can only get better.

As opening nights of the season go, this was the exact polar opposite of what Redcar Bears had been hoping for as they ushered in the 2015 campaign at the Media Prima Arena.

A heavy home defeat,  a nasty crash which led to skipper Stuart Robson being taken to hospital, Jan Graversen blowing his first choice motor in his opening ride and double Bear of the Year Hugh Skidmore struggling to make an impact due to suffering from tonsillitis… It really was one of those nights.

Robbo’s crash came in heat seven of the Ecco Finishing Bears’ A66 Challenge match when he lost a chain going into the first turn on lap two and he banged into the fence. Rafal Konopka looked like he was going to end up on the wrong side of the fence trying to avoid him but avoid him he did – although he took a closer look at  the air fence too, severely damaging his frame in the process.

Robson, who  had won his opening ride, was loaded into the ambulance and after a lengthy hold-up, taken to hospital with concussion, leg and arm injuries. He’ll definitely miss the return leg at Workington on Saturday although the Bears management hope he’ll be fit for next Thursday’s Premier League trip to Sheffield.

By the time Robbo came to grief, the Bears were already 23-16 down and facing an uphill battle. They’d conceded 5-1s in the first two heats and already used the black and white tactical double helmet colour.

New No 1 Lasse Bjerre had taken the tactical ride and earned the Bears a rare race win but that heat six 6-3 proved to be the only time they got the better of their visitors.

Without Robson the task was made so much more difficult and the Comets steadily extended their lead as the night went on.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the home fans though. Bjerre came from behind as he became the only man to take a point from Rene Bach all night and looks to have all the hallmarks of a fine No 1 while Matej Kus scored well on his return to Teesside.

Both were up for a battle too. In a cracking heat 12 Kus used every inch of the track, inside and outside, as he fought his way past Nicki Barrett to lead, only for Bach to come surging through for one of his four race wins.

And next time out, in another contender for race of the season, early leader Bjerre suddenly found himself back in third place before fighting his way past Kyle Howarth and you could have thrown a tea towel over the first three as they crossed the line.

Comets No 1 Kenneth Hansen missed the meeting (his team-mates scored a paid maximum from rider replacement in his absence) after being told there was a 90% chance he had testicular cancer. However further tests revealed he doesn’t after all have cancer which is excellent news.

BEARS: Lasse Bjerre 14, Matej Kus 9+2, Rafal Konopka 5, Stuart Robson 3 (w/d), Jan Graversen 2, Hugh Skidmore 2, Ben Morley 1.

COMETS: Rene Bach 14, Ricky Wells 13, Kyle Howarth 11+2, Rusty Harrison 7+2, Nicki Barrett 7+1, Nathan Greaves 4+2, R/R for Kenneth Hansen.

South Tees Silver Helmet

REDCAR Bears ace Jan Graversen stunned the big guns to win the South Tees Silver Helmet.

The Danish battler held off a determined effort from Ecco Finishing Bears skipper Aaron Summers to clinch victory in the final by the narrowest of margins.

It’s fair to say that Graversen wasn’t among the favourites for the famous old title, first competed for at Cleveland Park back in 1928.

Guest of honour Tai Woffinden, the current world champion, was still signing autographs when Graversen won his opening race ahead of Hugh Skidmore – who had looked a good bet for the trophy during the heats – and Summers.

A pair of last places looked to have scuppered his chances but a second place in his final heat changed all that.

It meant he finished on five points, the same as team-mates Rafal Konopka and 2012 winner Carl Wilkinson but with only one of them able to take the last qualifying place for the semi-finals.

First it went to race wins, which eliminated Konopka. Wilkinson and Graversen had both won once each but the latter finished ahead of his rival when they met in heat 12 so through he went.

Skidmore had topped the scorecharts after the heats with nine points but his night ended when he finished at the back in the first semi-final.

Thomas Jorgensen won that one ahead of Ludvig Lindgren, a late replacement for Kenneth Hansen, meaning that Bears No 1 Richard Lawson also went out.

Lawson had made a slow start to the meeting but won his final two heats, anxiously looking behind him as he took the chequered flag in the second of those after his fuel line came adrift.

Graversen won the second semi-final from the tapes but all the action was going in behind him.

Robert Lambert, who recorded two impressive wins in the heats but also needed the attention of the paramedics after a heavy heat four fall, held off Summers until the final lap when the Bears captain’s determination and perseverance paid off and he found a way past.

Summers almost did it again in the final and his reaction after crossing the line clearly showed he thought he’d done it, but he was unable to get past Graversen who clung on by the skin of his teeth.

Behind them Lindgren took the final podium place, with Thomas Jorgensen fourth.

Qualifying scores: Hugh Skidmore 9, Ulrich Ostergaard 8, Ludvig Lindgren 8, Aaron Summers 8, Robert Lambert 7, Richard Lawson 7, Thomas Jorgensen 6, Jan Graversen 5, Carl Wilkinson 5, Rafal Konopka 5, Mark Lemon 3, Danny Ayres 1.

Semi-final one: Jorgensen, Lindgren, Lawson, Skidmore.

Semi-final two: Graversen, Summers, Lambert, Ostergaard.

Final: Graversen, Summers, Lindgren, Jorgensen.

Edinburgh Monarchs 59 Redcar Bears 37

Redcar Bears completed their Premier League fixtures for the year with a comprehensive defeat at high-flying Edinburgh.

The defeat, it has to be said, was a predictable one given that the Ecco Finishing Bears have missed out on the play-offs while their hosts were heading into a hectic weekend in a good position to finish top of the table at the end of the regular season.

The Monarchs haven’t dropped a point at home all season and the enormity of the Bears’ task became all the more obvious as they found themselves 15-3 down after three heats.

Craig Cook and former Bear Justin Sedgmen led the way in heat one as they outgated Richard Lawson and Mark Lemon but in heat two it looked odds on that the Bears would peg the Monarchs back.

Jan Graversen and Rafal Konopka both made fantastic starts ahead of Aaron Fox and Derek Sneddon. Graversen was clear at the front but after Fox passed Konopka it was Sneddon’s turn to try and get past the young Pole.

Sneddon came underneath Konopka going into turn one and the pressure was enough to unsettle the Redcar rider who went down. Referee Willie Dishington ordered a re-run and this time the Monarchs made no mistake and recorded another 5-1.

With the Bears 14 down after four heats the Redcar management decided to give the black and white helmet colour to Lawson for heat five.

The Cumbrian delivered the six points to halt the Monarchs bandwagon but team-mate Lemon couldn’t split the home pair of Max Fricke and ex-Bear Steve Worrall to increase the advantage. It was a welcome 6-3  but the Bears couldn’t build on the glimmer of hope that Lawson had provided.

Edinburgh followed up Lawson’s six points with three heat advantages in a row to go 19 points ahead and the chances of the Bears becoming the first side to leave Armadale with a point were blown away.

The Bears can take one positive from the meeting in that Summers and Lawson became the first duo to secure heat advantages in both heat 13 and 15 against the Monarchs this season.

Cook and Australian Sam Masters have been in superb form around their home track all year but the Bears duo upset the applecart in heat 13 with a 5-1 of their own to put some respectability back into the scoreline.

Summers made it back to back race wins in heat 15 and the former Monarch was on top form on his return to his former track.

“With the form that Edinburgh are in at home, it was always going to be tough coming here,” reflected the skipper. “We have been struggling ourselves lately, even at home, so it was always going to be very tough.

“From my point of view I thought I had a good meeting, I had a slow start but I finished off strong. I’ve been going to Edinburgh for a couple of years now and I always look forward to going back there. To be honest it is my favourite Premier League track and every time we go there I enjoy it.”

The Bears had to go with only one rider in heat 14 as Konopka had bike problems and no spare machine.

“We needed our reserves to score tonight,” added Summers, “and after the way Rafal scored at the Scottish Open I thought he would have been alright.

“He’s had a bit of a tough run recently. He bent his No 1 bike the other week and hasn’t been able to get the problem fixed.”

MONARCHS: Justin Sedgmen 12+2, Max Fricke 10, Sam Masters 10, Craig Cook 8+1, Aaron Fox 7+1, Steve Worrall 6+4, Derek Sneddon 6.

BEARS: Aaron Summers 15, Richard Lawson 12+1, Carl Wilkinson 5, Jan Graversen 3, Hugh Skidmore 2, Mark Lemon 0, Rafal Konopka 0.

Redcar Bears 48 Rye House Rockets 42

THEY won the match but Redcar Bears ended their home Premier League campaign with more of a rattle than a bang.

Team boss Jitendra Dufill was happy enough with a victory, and you can’t blame him. A win is a win and the meeting was a decent enough advert for speedway too.

But the Ecco Finishing Bears’ season-long habit of dropping points at home continued, this time giving the visitors the luxury of picking up a PL point on their travels for the very first time in 2014 after finishing the night within seven points of their hosts.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this season has been far from a disaster. But the Bears haven’t qualified for the play-offs for the simple reason that they’re not good enough. They have a handful of riders who, you could argue, deserve to have something to show for their efforts but as a seven-man team they’ve fallen short.

Against the Rockets Richard Lawson and Aaron Summers did their respective jobs as No 1 and captain while Hugh Skidmore again demonstrated the progress he’s making with a mature performance that saw him go unbeaten by an opponent in his first three races.

Jan Graversen burst into life with two excellent wins to round off the night but the rest of the team was solid rather than spectacular.  And when you’re battling for points, it’s the extraordinary rather than the ordinary that gets you results.

The Bears made flying start with a 5-1 from Lawson a Skidmore over Eddie Kennett and guest Aaron Fox and although the visitors swiftly levelled it up, Duffill’s side were back in front after heat six. And although they stayed ahead for the rest of the night, they were never able to pull out what you’d call a comfortable lead.

Chris Gay has a reputation for holding riders at the tapes longer than other referees and, though exciting young starlet Jason Garrity missed a chance to make his rider replacement outing count when he went through the tapes at he start of heat six, it was the Bears who suffered most from it.

Graversen broke the tapes in each of his first two rides while Summers, after being warned for jumping the start earlier on, was shown the red light for the same offence in heat 11. On that occasion, though, with Graversen out in front, he battled past Fox and almost had Kennett on the line.

A 2-4 followed by a pair of drawn heats put the score at 44-40 going into the last race and needing a 5-1 to ensure a maximum points haul.

The Law flew out of the gate and cruised to victory but although Summers had the measure of Kennett, he couldn’t find a way past the impressive Steve Boxall despite riding his socks off.

BEARS: Richard Lawson 9+2, Hugh Skidmore 9+1, Aaron Summers 9, Jan Graversen 7, Rafal Konopka 5+1, Mark Lemon 5+1, Carl Wilkinson 4+1
ROCKETS: Steve Boxall 15+1, Edward Kennett 12, Jason Garrity 7+1, Luke Bowen 5+1, Oliver Greenwood 3+1, Aaron Fox 0, R/R Anders Mellgren.

WATCH and listen to team manager Jitendra Duffill’s reaction at www.gazettelive.co.uk on Friday. More reaction in The Gazette and online on Saturday.

 

The road to Rio

IT was 10 years ago tomorrow that I nearly got run over by Rio Ferdinand.
 
No word of a lie. England’s Under-21 football team were playing Ukraine at the Riverside Stadium and Rio was in town to see his kid brother Anton pull on a Three Lions shirt.
 
I’d been for a couple of pre-match liveners with the Gazette Sports Desk posse and we were heading to the ground. Then, as we were making our way across the road, wooosh! Along came a big black Chelsea tractor with the Manchester United stopper at the wheel.
 
It was unmistakably him. His Jar Jar Binks look behind the wheel was impossible to miss, as was the personalised number plate..
 
Fortunately no contact was made – rather like some of his attempts to win the ball in a tackle – and off we went to watch the game, happily still in one piece.
 
It’s kind of appropriate that such a milestone anniversary should fall on the week of the Julie Lewis Memorial Meeting at South Tees Motrsports Park because then as now it was billed as a chance to see the stars of the future.
 
That particular sobriquet may well be true, and it will be interesting to chart who it applies to. For example James Milner and Stewie  Downing were among the genuine future stars on show at the Riverside a decade ago but so too was a defender called Dan Harding who apparently stills plays for Nottingham Forest but I’ve genuinely no recollection of ever seeing him play, either in real life or on the telly.
 
Matt Williamson took the honours but there was a lot of other emerging talent to catch the eye too. Danny Phillips would have won the Unluckiest Rider of the Night trophy had their been one, while Brendan Johnson looked pretty nifty too.
 
I took a keen interest in Luke Chessell, having reported on his dad Mark and uncle Gary when I was a fresh-faced young thing covering Arena Essex many years ago and he was certainly the surprise packet.
 
Some will make it, some won’t. But right now each of the riders who were on show has the world at their feet and deserve every bit of encouragement as they look to make their way in the sport..
 
Good luck to them all, and it would be wonderful to look back in 10 years’ time and say “I remember seeing him ride when he was just a junior”.

Julie Lewis Memorial Meeting

LATE replacement Matt Williamson proved a show-stealing addition to the line-up as he lifted the Julie Lewis Memorial Trophy at the end of a captivating evening.

The Scunthorpe prospect was drafted into the field for the annual junior level individual meeting at South Tees Motorsports Park as a replacement for Cradley’s Tom Perry.

And he won three of his four heats – the only blemish coming in his final programmed ride when he was beaten by fellow late addition Ben Morley,

Then after taking the chequered flag in his semi-final, he recorded a tapes to flag victory in the final to gain a revenge victory over Kent Kings rider Morley with impressive Devon Demons rider Luke Chessell third and Poole’s Brendan Johnson fourth.

Chessell, son of former Arena Essex and Milton Keynes star Mark, was disappointed with himself afterwards for allowing Morley to dart underneath him as he chased Williamson, but after finishing his heats on 11 points and winning his semi by a country mile, he shouldn’t be too downbeat.

One rider you had to feel for was Teessider Danny Phillips.

The Cradley ace finished second in each of his first two heats, stylishly blasting round the outside of eventual finalist Johnson in the first one those, but then ending up pushing his bike home at the back in his next two rides.

First of all his cut-out came adrift and then, agonisingly, in his final ride his chain came off with a flash of sparks when he was less than a lap away from a certain victory. Had his luck not deserted him as he led they way, he’d have been in the semi-final line-up.

Another Teessider, Redcar Cubs’ Ben Basford, found the going tougher than he’s used to in the Northern Junior League and didn’t score but the experience will do him good.

Danny Ayres and Ben Hopwood were involved in a horrifying high speed crash in the opening race but both were able to continue. They breed ’em tough even at junior level!

Qualifying scores: Matt Williamson 11, Ben Morley 11, Luke Chessell 9, Danny Ayres 7, Brandan Johnson 6, Chris Widman 6, Max Clegg 6, Ben Hopwood 5, Reece Downes 5, Danny Phillips 4, Danno Verge 1, Ben Basford 0.

Semi-final one: Chessell, Morley, Ayres, Clegg.

Semi-final two: Williamson, Johnson, Hopwood, Widman.

Final: Williamson, Morley, Chessell, Johnson.