MONARCH Oxford Cheetahs took a dramatic 46-44 victory over the Glasgow Tigers at Oxford Stadium last night (Wednesday), after leading the meeting only once… at the conclusion of the final race.
This was a near-perfect night of speedway. There was a loud and enthusiastic crowd, the largest at Sandy Lane since the opening three meetings; some tremendous racing on display; one or two moments of controversy; some desperately tight finishes to both Heats 13 and 14; and Cheetahs snatching the win at the death.
Entering the final race, Tigers led by 43-41. Oxford were represented by stand-in skipper Troy Batchelor and Chris Harris, the guest for the injured Scott Nicholls.
Batchelor made a terrific gate off the inside, and then Harris carved inside the Glasgow pair of Craig Cook and Tom Brennan up the back straight. After that Batchelor and Harris team-rode to perfection, to allow Cook with no route through, as Cheetahs won the meeting with a 5-1.
Earlier on, Glasgow took the lead with two successive 4-2s in the opening two races, with Harris and Luke Killeen both suffering engine failures for Cheetahs.
Recent signing Aaron Summers commenced his home debut for Cheetahs with a win in Heat 3, before Killeen suffered a harsh exclusion from a first bend incident in Heat 4, after Broc Nicol came off, but Batchelor passed Nicol to win the re-run.
With Oxford on a 5-1, Cook fell in Heat 5 which led to the race being stopped. Cook received a few boos from the Oxford crowd, for failing to clear the track in time, but to be fair to him, he did hobble off once he got to his feet. In any case, Summers and Heeps made no mistakes to take a 5-1 in the re-run to level the scores at 15-15. It was the last heat advantage for either side until Heat 13, since the next seven races were all drawn 3-3.
While Harris was winning Heat 6, there was an almighty battle for the minor positions. Ruml was in second at one point, but eventually he lost to Danyon Hume and Tom Brennan as the race was shared. The scores remained deadlocked after Batchelor produced a good second bend in Heat 7 to win the race.
Heat 8 saw a similar incident to the one in Heat 4, with Nicol the man on the inside, but he escaped exclusion after he and Ruml came down. In the re-run, Summers made it three wins out of three, with Ruml tried hard to pass Nicol to no avail. Summers was straight back out in Heat 9 and passed Brennan after half a lap to maintain his unbeaten status.
Heat 10 was classic Bomber Harris. He missed the start, but had passed Glasgow riders, Ulrich Ostergaard and Benjamin Basso, within the course of the first lap.
Cook led Heat 11 all the way, despite early pressure from Batchelor. The Australian then started to slow with bike problems and just held onto third at the end.
Heat 12 saw Hume make the start, while Ostergaard came around the outside to join him briefly at the front. But Heeps and Ruml then pushed under him, as yet another race finished as a 3-3.
The sequence of shared races was finally broken in Heat 13 and not the way that Cheetahs were hoping. Harris tried everything he could to pass third-placed Brennan, but a flat tyre at the conclusion of the race did not help as his last-gasp effort just failed. Cook won ahead of Batchelor, as Tigers took a 4-2 to move 40-38 ahead.
Summers ran out of steam in Heat 14, but Ruml produced an outstanding ride to keep Cheetahs in the hunt. The American found himself trailing Hume and under pressure from third-placed Basso. But Ruml stuck to the task, spotted a gap on the inside coming off the final bend and pipped Hume to victory in a photo-finish. The 3-3 meant Tigers kept their two-point advantage, heading into the climatic final race, where Harris and Batchelor pulled victory out of the bag.
Speaking after the meeting, stand-in skipper Troy Batchelor said: “We win and lose as a team together, and tonight we managed to get the win against Glasgow, who are a good side, so it’s awesome stuff.
“Aaron Summers coming in has made a big difference. He hadn’t ridden since early September last year when he came for us at Glasgow last Friday and scored well. For him to then score 12 points and four wins tonight is pretty amazing.
“He’s hardly had any bike and is already scoring good points, and once he’s had bike time, he could improve even more.
“Everyone’s points count and they all add up. Without, for example, Dillon Ruml beating Danyon Hume to the line in Heat 14, we couldn’t have won tonight.
“It was great to be able to get the 5-1 in the final race with Bomber (Harris) to win the meeting. But, to be honest, it shouldn’t come down to that.
“Of course, it’s fantastic for the crowd when we win the meeting in the last race with a 5-1, but you have to appreciate that both sides have their top guys out in the final race and you can’t expect it to go your way every time. We’ll sort that and try to tie up meetings a bit sooner.
“It was nice to be back and fun to be back. It seems to be an age since we completed a full home meeting at Oxford. It was a good day.”
Oxford Cheetahs 46: Chris Harris 9, Kyle Newman R/R, Cameron Heeps 5+2, Aaron Summers 12, Troy Batchelor 11+2, Dillon Ruml 9, Luke Killeen 0.
Glasgow Tigers 44: Craig Cook 10, Connor Bailey 2, Ulrich Ostergaard 5+1, Benjamin Basso 5+3, Tom Brennan 5+2, Danyon Hume 13+1, Broc Nicol 4+1.
Report by Rob Peasley