Somerset Rebels race to dramatic win at Wolverhampton Wolves

PUBLISHED: 11:43 11 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:44 11 August 2017

Somerset Rebels skipper Josh Grajczonek who was the last heat hero for his team in the win at Wolverhampton Wolves

Somerset Rebels skipper Josh Grajczonek who was the last heat hero for his team in the win at Wolverhampton Wolves

After a dearth of fixtures through late June and the whole of July, ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels face a busy month in August, with the fixture list seeing them compete in eleven fixtures in the month, writes Dave Thompson.

The Rebels have made a terrific start to August, being currently unbeaten in the first three encounters on that list. After defeating Belle Vue and Leicester Lions, they added win number three in a tight and tense battle with last year’s Elite League Champions the Wolverhampton Wolves, edging home in a dramatic match, by the narrowest of margins.

Wolverhampton arrived at the Oaktree Arena minus the services of former Rebel Sam Masters, the victim of a shoulder injury whilst riding for his SGB Championship Club, Edinburgh. His enforced absence was covered by a rider replacement facility, with everyone, bar Frederick Lindgren, in the Wolves line up being able to take one of his rides.

From Wolverhampton’s point of view, the meeting got off the best possible start, when their opening duo of Lindgren and Kyle Howarth flew from the gate to lead every inch of the way. Richard Lawson gave early chase to the pair but was outpaced after the second lap. At the front, Lindgren pulled well clear, with Howarth easily outpointing Lawson to bring home all the points for the visitors.

The fans got a taste of what was to come as the Rebels quickly levelled the score, taking Heat 2 with a maximum advantage of their own. Lewis Kerr, who had an outstanding night in Monday’s televised victory at Kings Lynn, jetted from the gate to lead up from Ellis Perks and his Rebels team mate, Jake Allen. Perks led Allen for just over a lap, but once Allen turned up the turbo, he had no answer to the Australian’s powerful back straight charge. In that one move, the race was settled, leaving Perks to slow dramatically on Lap 3 before retiring on the final turn of the race.

Jacob Thorssell has been in superb form of late, and there was nothing to suggest that was going to change, when he fired off the line to lead Heat 3, with Patrick Hougaard and Rory Schlein dropping in behind. Charles Wright was always on the back foot after missing the break, but in true Wright fashion he was soon in top gear trying to chase down Schlein in third place, and by the third turn he threw in his bid for the place. Schlein held him off, edging out a small lead over the Rebels flyer. With Thorssell making the best of his way home, Schlein closed in on Hougaard, but the Dane had too much for him, whilst he comfortably held off Wright, whose tardy start had cost him dear.

Kyle Howarth took the replacement ride in Heat 4 and made it count as he blazed off the start, hitting the front from the get go. Lewis Kerr and Josh Grajczonek were next up, and it the reserve Kerr who emerged to chase down the Ashton born racer. By the second turn of the following lap, he challenged Howarth for the lead, with a dash up his inner, but he couldn’t make the move stick, and Howarth pulled away again. Despite his persistence, Kerr never got in another blow, leaving Howarth to take a cosy win. With Grajczonek easily accounting for Nathan Greaves, the heat was shared, leaving the Wolves maintaining a narrow 2-point lead.

Two more points were added to the Black Country side’s lead in Heat 5 after Patrick Hougaard and Frederick Lindgren had disputed the early running. By the second bend, Lindgren overcame the early challenge, taking the inside line, before moving wide, slamming the door shut on Hougaard as he pressed down the outside of the back straight. Charles Wright charged around the outside of Kyle Howarth in the second turn, only to lock up and drop to the back of the field. After that Wright was never near enough to throw in another challenge. Lindgren stormed away to take the win, with his partner adding another point in third place.

If the travelling Wolves fan thought that result might signal the start of a run that would give them clear water from the Rebels, they were quickly made to think again, as the home side hit back immediately in the best possible fashion. Richard Lawson rocketed from the tapes to hit the front before the turn, and when Cameron Heeps sailed around the outside of Rory Schlein down the back straight, his move was greeted by an enormous roar from the home supporters. Schlein gave chase and silenced the Rebels faithful as he charged up Heeps inner on the penultimate bend of lap three, before hitting the second spot inside the first turn of the final lap. The cheers started to rise again, and reached a crescendo, as Heeps produced another power packed run down the back straight to seize back second place, and give the Rebels the ‘Full House’ that levelled the scores.

The next two heats were shared, with the teams locked together 24-24 at the halfway stage. The first of these shared heats, Heat 7 went wrong for the Wolves at the start line, as Jacob Thorssell jumped the start, destroying the tapes in the process. Sam Ermolenko, the Wolverhampton team manager in the absence of Peter Adams, chose to put Thorssell back out off the 15-metre handicap. In the rerun, Rory Schlein and Josh Grajczonek contested a very tight run to the turn. Grajczonek attempted to clamp Schlein to the kerb but just failed to get over the top of his fellow countryman, as Schlein used a front wheel over the infield to steal away the lead. Grajczonek continued to press into the next bend, and the pair were soon joined by Jake Allen, who charged into the mix. Schlein and Grajczonek were fast out of the turn, as Allen’s run got chopped off in it’s prime. Once Schlein was free of Grajczonek attention he went on to take the win, and with Thorssell unable to make any ground the points went equally to both teams.

Cameron Heeps hit the ground running in Heat 8, but Nathan Greaves was also quickly into his stride and made a neat pass inside of the second turn to demote Heeps to second place. As they approached the first turn on the next lap, Heeps stuck it out in the dirt, to storm around the wide line, hitting the front as they entered the back straight. Late in the race, Kyle Howarth took up the chase, passing his team mate, and pressing Heeps into the bargain. He charged hard up the inside of Heeps on the second turn of the final lap, getting upside the Rebels man, but Heeps was having none of it, and immediately powered back to the lead down the back straight, to take the win with something in hand. Lewis Kerr was slowly away and never got into the hunt for points.

The Rebels broke the deadlock in Heat 9, as Charles Wright and Jacob Thorssell, taking the replacement ride, disputed the early running, but not before Thorssell had jumped the original start, causing a restart, and receiving a warning for his trouble. In the rerun, it was tight until Wright, who had been having a quiet night up to this point, hit the front down the back straight. Thorssell gave chase, but could never get back on terms with the now flying Wright. Behind the pair, Patrick Hougaard was being pressed by Ellis Perks, who never gave up the chase, but in the end Hougaard accounted for him with some ease.

A level break in Heat 10 saw the field closely contest the first turn before Jacob Thorssell, taking his second ride on the trot, hit the front. Richard Lawson slipped into second place, leaving Cameron Heeps and Rory Schlein to battle for third. The pair battled it out for all four laps, with the vital place at stake right up to the last lap. On the second bend of the final circuit, Schlein cut hard up the inside of Heeps, to race side-by-side down the back straight, until Heeps finally found just enough clear air to slam the door shut on his challenger, and take a share of the points.

The match turned in Wolverhampton’s favour in Heat 11, when their opening duo of Frederick Lindgren and Kyle Howarth made lightning starts to lead up. Josh Grajczonek and Jake Allen were not far behind, and the pair closed down Howarth on the second lap, but couldn’t find a way through. Grajczonek dropped away, leaving Allen to harry Howarth. As they approached the third turn of Lap 3, Allen made one of his trademark cutbacks from the wide outside, guiding up the inside of the Wolves racer, but he couldn’t just find the final drive to grab the place. On the final lap, he tried again, this time on the second turn, but got out of shape, giving Howarth the breathing space he needed to give the Wolves their second maximum advantage on the night, and a narrow 2-point lead.

The final four heats all had bearings on the potential final outcome of the meeting, potential outcome because at any one of various points both teams put the outcome firmly in the hands of their opponents, creating one of the tensest finishes to a meeting ever seen at the Oaktree Arena. From the Wolverhampton point of view, things went spectacularly wrong in Heat 12.

The heat was eventually started four times, before reaching its final conclusion. In the original start, the Wolves pairing broke quickly, but the race was called back after Lewis Kerr jumped the start, and was issued with a warning. The first restart saw Rory Schlein break in the lead, with the remaining three contesting second place. As Kerr challenged Perks on bend three, the young Wolverhampton reserve fell and was excluded. Restart number two saw Charles Wright and Schlein dispute the run to the turn, with Wright taking the advantage around the wide line. At the third turn, Schlein cut back up the inside of Wright, but the Stockport racer repaid the compliment on the next curve. As the pair reached the second turn on the next lap, Schlein again grabbed the lead up the inside. Wright powered down the back straight, reaching the third bend on the outside of Schlein, who then tightened up Wright with a hard move up the inside, causing the Rebels man to take a nasty looking fall.

Dave Watters immediately put on the red lights, along with the yellow exclusion light, throwing Schlein out of the race. Wright soon regained his feet, and gave Schlein the benefit of his ire, as the Australian came back round. Despite the fact that only the two Rebels were left in the race, the Heat was rerun as two full laps had not been completed. The rerun saw Wright take the lead early on, as he and Kerr took an unusual 5-0 win.

Wolverhampton suffered more woe in Heat 13 when Fredrick Lindgren was defeated for the only time in the match. Wolverhampton also only had one option for rider replacement in the heat, as Sam Ermolenko had used all his top riders in the first three replacement rides, he was forced to use reserve Nathan Greaves in place of his absent number 5. As the tapes rose, Lindgren was rapidly into his stride, leading from Josh Grajczonek at the turn. Grajczonek hit the wide dirt line, and produced a stunning run down the back straight, flying past Lindgren to charge into the lead to a massive cheer from the home fans, before switching back inside into the third bend. Once at the front, he moved back to the wide line, racing just inches from the fence, and with every turn of his wheels, he moved further ahead to take a magnificent victory. With Richard Lawson taking a comfortable third place, the heat advantage had put the Rebels within touching distance of a glorious win over the reigning champions.

The home side now only needed a shared heat in the final two heats to virtually guarantee the win, barring a disaster, but the match was not done, as it produced a sting in its tail. Wolverhampton looked to have given them a chance of upsetting the applecart as their duo of Jacob Thorssell and Nathan Greaves broke on a maximum advantage, but that very quickly change to favour the Rebels, as first Jake Allen and then Patrick Hougaard breezed past Greaves. Allen set off after Thorssell and was soon on his tail. Moving to the very wide line, used by Grajczonek in the previous race, he was clearly quicker than his opponent, but Thorssell cleverly kept him wide. On the third lap, approaching the second bend, Allen almost hit the fence, but quickly caught the error to keep up the pressure. On the final lap, with the job almost done, disaster struck for Allen and the Rebels. In almost the same spot as the previous lap, with Thorssell having moved a little wider, Allen struck the fence, and took a huge fall, leaving the Wolves pair to go on to take a heat advantage, which put them back in the running. To make things worse for Allen, it was later discovered that he had broken two small bones in his wrist, and will miss Monday’s upcoming televised encounter with Leicester Lions.

From having appeared to have done all the hard work, it had now all come down to the final heat for the Rebels, and they had the unenviable task of trying to avoid a Wolverhampton 5-1 if they were to take the spoils. Garry May sent out the Rebels magnificent skipper, Josh Grajczonek, alongside Charles Wright to try to bring home the bacon. Their task was made doubly difficult, as Sam Ermolenko had the double spearhead of his top scoring duo, Fredrick Lindgren and Jacob Thorssell, to rely on.

When the tapes rose, Lindgren was quickly away and was never headed. Rebels fans were buoyed by the sight of Thorssell missing the gate, but their joy was short lived as the Swede cut to the inside and flew by both Rebels as they hit the back straight. With the meeting now slipping out of their grasp, Grajczonek and Wright set about Thorssell. The trio hammered away at each other, swapping places over and over, before Grajczonek finally made a move stick, giving the Rebels fans hope that they had taken the win. Wright tried to consolidate that position and looked to have Thorssell under control until the Swede slipped by and set sail after Grajczonek. Coming with a last gasp run, he closed on the Rebels skipper, but much to the relief and undoubted joy of the home support, Grajczonek, amid massive cheers, flashed across the line to take the second spot, and give the Rebels the narrowest of wins 45-44.

Wolverhampton’s majority of points came from three riders, the superb Lindgren with 14-points, Jacob Thorssell (12pts), and Kyle Howarth (10+2), on the downside they were well outpointed at reserve, and combined with a lack lustre performance from Rory Schlein, culminating in an exclusion, this finally did for them. The ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels had produced the epitome of an all-around in depth team performance, with no rider scoring less than 4-points, whilst the top scorer posted 8+1. That top scorer was the skipper Josh Grajczonek, whose two stunning rides in Heats 13 & 15 quite rightly won him the ‘Somerset Rider of the Night’ award, chosen by meeting sponsors Carlsberg, and presented on their behalf by Sam and Mandy Abbot, long time sponsors of the Rebels.

The win moves the Rebels closer to the Playoff places, closing the gap on the fourth placed Poole Pirates to just three points, with a match in hand. If Poole lose their home meeting against Rye House on Thursday (10th August), and the Rebels win their televised meeting on Monday, they will be on the same number of points as Poole and in with a shout at the Playoffs.

SGB Premiership meeting statistics

Somerset Rebels - 45

1. Richard Lawson – 1, 3, 2, 1 = 7

2. Cameron Heeps – 0, 2*, 3, 1* = 6+2

3. Charles Wright – 0, 0, 3, 3, 0 = 6

4. Patrick Hougaard – 2, 2, 1, 2 = 7

5. Josh Grajczonek - 1*, 2, 0, 3, 2 = 8+1

6. Jake Allen - 2*, 1*, 1, Flx = 4+2

7. Lewis Kerr – 3, 2, 0, 2* = 7+1

Wolverhampton Wolves – 44

1. Fredrik Lindgren – 3, 3, 3, 2, 3 = 14

2. Kyle Howarth - 2*, 3, 1, 2, 2* = 10+2

3. Rory Schlein – 1, 1, 3, 0, X = 5

4. Jacob Thorssell – 3, 0, 2, 3, 3, 1 = 12

5. Sam Masters – Rider Replacement

6. Ellis Perks – R, R, 0, Flx = 0

7. Nathan Greaves – 1, 0, 1*, 0, 1 = 3+1

SCB Referee: Dave Watters

Heat Results

Heat 01: Lindgren, Howarth, Lawson, Heeps (1-5) (1-5) 57.13

Heat 02: Kerr, Allen, Greaves, Perks (Ret) (5-1) (6-6) 57.83

Heat 03: Thorssell, Hougaard, Schlein, Wright (2-4) (8-10) 57.81

Heat 04: Howarth, Kerr, Grajczonek, Greaves (3-3) (11-13) 57.81

Heat 05: Lindgren, Hougaard, Howarth, Wright (2-4) (13-17) 57.57

Heat 06: Lawson, Heeps, Schlein, Perks (Ret) (5-1) (18-18) 58.03

Heat 07: Schlein, Grajczonek, Allen, Thorssell (3-3) (21-21) 57.00

Heat 08: Heeps, Howarth, Greaves, Kerr (3-3) (24-24) 58.44

Heat 09: Wright, Thorssell, Hougaard, Perks (4-2) (28-26) 57.75

Heat 10: Thorssell, Lawson, Heeps, Schlein (3-3) (31-29) 58.37

Heat 11: Lindgren, Howarth, Allen, Grajczonek (1-5) (32-34) 58.53

Heat 12: Wright, Kerr, Schlein (Ex), Perks (Flx) (5-0) (37-34) 59.60

Heat 13: Grajczonek, Lindgren, Lawson, Greaves (4-2) (41-36) 58.06

Heat 14: Thorssell, Hougaard, Greaves, Allen (Flx) (2-4) (43-40) Awarded

Heat 15: Lindgren, Grajczonek, Thorssell, Wright (2-4) (45-44) 58.75


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