WSRA Oxford Chargers, powered by SD Timmo Car Sales, replaced Mildenhall Fen Tigers at the top of the National League table, after beating the Suffolk side by 54-36 at Oxford Stadium last night (Tuesday).
It was very much a meeting of two halves. Mildenhall had a slight advantage for most of the opening eight races, before Chargers took the lead for the first time with a 5-1 in Heat 9 and never looked back. The 18-point margin represents Oxford’s biggest-ever league victory over Mildenhall, since the clubs first came into competition in 1976.
It was very impressive performance by Chargers, building on the victories at Edinburgh (57-32) and Berwick (46-44) last weekend. Going into the meeting, it looked like a potential banana skin, since injuries to both Luke Killeen and Kelsey Dugard saw Chargers forced to track two unattached riders at reserve – Sam Woods and Kai Ward – while Fen Tigers looked strengthened by the presence of Oxford track specialist Ashton Boughen in their line-up.
But Woods – covering for Killeen for the fourth time – put in his usual fully-committed display that has made him such a favoured choice for Chargers and he scored five points, despite two falls, and it meant that Mildenhall only outscored Chargers by 6-5 at reserve, which had looked a potential Achilles’ Heel for Oxford.
Chargers did not get off to the best of starts in Heat 1. Firstly, Jordan Jenkins was penalised 15 metres for a tapes offence, which left him with a burn mark on his neck. Jacob Clouting then picked a highly dubious exclusion in the re-run, after a fall for former Charger Arran Butcher on the second bend.
Off his handicap, Jenkins roared under Butcher after a lap and then closed in Alfie Bowtell on the final lap, but he could not get through. It was the only point the classy Oxford skipper dropped all the night, as Fen Tigers opened with a 4-2.
A chaotic Heat 2 also resulted in a 4-2 to the visitors, before the next couple of races were shared, with Ryan Kinsley providing Oxford’s first-heat winner in Heat 4.
Henry Atkins and Jody Scott took a 4-2 in Heat 5, while Chargers levelled the scores with a further 4-2 in Heat 6, after Jenkins pounced to pass Lee Complin on the final lap after an exciting battle.
Heat 7 saw George Congreve leading from Kinsley, who in turn had Boughen on his tail. It was an intriguing three-way battle, with Kinsley almost passing Congreve a couple of times, but Congreve pushed Kinsley wide at the end of the third lap, and Boughen came through. It briefly looked like a 5-1 to Fen Tigers, but Kinsley roared over Congreve on the third bend of the final lap to secure second place.
Butcher led Heat 8, but Clouting roared around him at the end of the opening lap, as Chargers levelled the scores at 24-24.
Chargers moved ahead in Heat 9. Atkins led, while Scott took advantage of a mistake by Complin to move into second. Complin tried to hit back, but he crashed down on the opening bend of the second lap while trying an outside move. With Complin excluded, Atkins and Scott took a runaway 5-1 in the re-run.
That was followed by a further maximum in Heat 10, with an outstanding ride by Clouting to defeat the previously unbeaten Boughen. Jenkins was untroubled up front, while Clouting moved around Congreve on the opening half lap to move into second. Boughen then tried hard to pass Clouting, but the Charger resisted Boughen’s efforts, and the Mildenhall guest rider then went for a big handful around the outside on the third bend of the third lap, but he fell heavily into the air fence. Fortunately, Boughen was okay, while the race was awarded as a 5-1 to Chargers.
Fen Tigers hit back with a 4-2 in Heat 11, and the scores going into the interval were 36-30 in Oxford’s favour.
The four races after the interval were all about the Chargers with four successive heat advantages (4-2, 5-1, 4-2 and 5-1), starting with a 4-2 in Heat 12, where Atkins defeated Boughen and Woods took third, after pressuring Josh Warren into an early fall.
Chargers clinched victory in an exceptional Heat 13. Jenkins and Bowtell duelled for the lead before Jenkins made the decisive move on the second lap. Kinsley won a battle for third with Complin early on, and then closed in on Bowtell. Bowtell seemed to have done enough, but Kinsley wasn’t to be denied and grabbed second place in a photo-finish with a late run up the inside.
The bonus point was also safe after a 4-2 from Scott and Woods in Heat 14, and Chargers were top of the table for the second time in a matter of days.
Jenkins and Atkins are becoming Heat 15 specialists. They took their fourth successive 5-1 from the race, after Atkins outfoxed Bowtell on the opening lap and charged under him on the third bend.
Both Jenkins (14) and Atkins (12+2) only dropped a point in their opening outings, while Kinsley (9+1) was also on excellent form once more.
But arguably even more pleasing were the performances of both Scott (8+1) and Clouting (6+1), who played a big part in Chargers pulling away from Fen Tigers in such decisive fashion in the closing stages. Oxford’s top five dropped just a single point between them from Heat 8 onwards – a powerhouse display that left Mildenhall, one of the best sides in the National League and league leaders going into the night, with no answer.
Jacob Clouting said: “It was a good win for the team. We also got the aggregate point as well, which is always a little bonus. It’s nice to be at the top of the table.
“I’m not sure what happened in Heat 1, but I got excluded for it. I didn’t touch anyone. I got a third after that, and then finished with a win and a paid win, which meant overall I was pleased with my night.
“I got better starts in my last two rides and it helped. In Heat 8, I was second down the back straight [behind Arran Butcher] and I went quite wide into the third and fourth bend, but I managed to pull it off and get in front.
“In Heat 10, I made not too bad a start, got around George Congreve on the opening bends, and at the same time that pushed Ashton Boughen a bit wide. Ashton tried an outside move on at the end of the third lap and he spun off. Before that, I knew he was there at times, behind me, but I just concentrated on riding my own race.
“I enjoyed Edinburgh last Friday. I took two paid wins, while I was well placed in the other two, when I came off trying to get more points. If I’d stayed on, I could have ended with a win and paid win in those. It’s quite a technical track and I was trying my hardest. I enjoyed the meeting – and we took a good victory.
“I struggled at Berwick. I’ve been there before, but it’s a long and unique track, and I still haven’t quite adjusted to it. But all we all scored, and we pulled together to win the meeting.
“We’re all good mates and it was great for us to spend Saturday together before the Berwick meeting. We washed our bikes together and then went for a meal. It was a nice chilled out day.
“Thank you to Peter and Jamie for putting me back into the team this year. I just want to keep progressing. I’m concentrating on working hard and improving my starts, while as a team, we want to take it all the way this year.”
WSRA Oxford Chargers, powered by SD Timmo Car Sales 54: Jordan Jenkins 14, Jacob Clouting 6+1, Henry Atkins 12+2, Jody Scott 8+1, Ryan Kinsley 9+1, Sam Woods 5, Kai Ward 0.Mildenhall Fen Tigers 36: Alfie Bowtell 10, Arran Butcher 4, Ashton Boughen 8, George Congreve 4, Lee Complin 4, William Richardson 2, Josh Warren 4+1.
PHOTO: Jordan Jenkins and Jacob Clouting after the 5-1 in Heat 10 (pic: STEVE EDMUNDS)