GLASGOW’S Chris Harris and Benjamin Basso were the deserving winners of the Championship Pairs at Oxford Stadium on Friday evening, beating defending champions Redcar in the final, while hosts Monarch Oxford Cheetahs finished on the podium in third place, after a fine effort from Sam Masters and Lewis Kerr.
The prestigious event, which dates back to 1975, was attended by a large and enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were en route to the British Grand Prix on the Principality Stadium at Cardiff on Saturday – an event eventually won by Slovakia’s Martin Vaculik.
It soon became clear that the meeting was likely to be a three-way fight between Oxford, Redcar and Glasgow, while the track was a little heavy in the early stages, due to rain on preceding days, but then developed and produced some terrific action.
Masters and Kerr got Oxford’s evening off to a perfect start with back-to-back 7-2s against Edinburgh (in Heat 2) and Poole (in Heat 6). Cheetahs were then pitted against Glasgow in Heat 10, and Kerr won the race, while Masters was pegged to the back. Under the 4-3-2-0 scoring system in operation, that resulted in a 5-4 to Glasgow.
The Glasgow vs Redcar clash in Heat 14 was a brilliant four-way battle that eventually finished as a 5-4 to Glasgow. Charles Wright won after a late bend surge past Basso, while Harris repassed Danny King to take third place.
Both Oxford (against Berwick in Heat 16) and Redcar (against Birmingham in Heat 18) finished with a maximum 7-2 and it left both teams on an identical record of 25 points. Since the teams had not met, a coin toss was required to determine the top qualifier, which Redcar won.
Glasgow finished third in the qualifying standings on 23 points, while Poole took the remaining place in the semi-finals on 17 points. Pirates tied on points with Scunthorpe, and qualified due to their 5-4 over Scorpions in Heat 15.
Scunthorpe were something of a hard luck story. They conceded a 7-2 in Heat 4, in a race where Wright was very lucky not to be excluded, after he looped his bike on the second bend, but the referee instead gave him a warning for moving at the start. Many then thought that Poole’s Ben Cook had crossed the inside kerb with both wheels – an excludable offence – after he repassed Scunthorpe’s Simon Lambert on the final bend after a thrilling battle for third place in Heat 15.
The first semi-final pitted Redcar against Poole. Redcar were sitting on a 6-3, when Richard Lawson tried to slow down third-placed Danny King to try to aid Cook, but instead King passed Lawson and Bears took a 7-2.
The second semi-final saw Oxford take on Glasgow. The first lap saw Masters emerge in front but with Kerr in fourth. Kerr forced a way under Basso on the second lap. But Harris then pinned Kerr to the inside on the opening bend of lap 3 and Basso raced back around into third. Masters did his best to slow down the race from in front, but Harris and Basso team-rode perfectly and Kerr could not land a further blow.
The final saw Basso make the start, but the Redcar pair were in the crucial second and third places. Wright pursued the Dane, but it left team-mate King vulnerable and Harris pounced and passed him on the second lap. Basso held off Wright, to inflict Wright’s only defeat of the evening, while Harris took the all-important third place and Tigers won with a 6-3.
It completed a perfect evening for Harris, since he had also broken Troy Batchelor’s track record in Heat 1 which had stood since the very first race back at Cowley in April 2022. Harris set a new marker of 57.53 – beating the previous time of 57.61.
While Glasgow finished third in the qualifiers, they were highly deserving winners, having faced both Oxford and Redcar twice on the night and finishing with a heat advantage in every one of those clashes. Neither Harris nor Basso had a last place all evening, which is the key to success in this competition.
Masters and Kerr gave everything to try to produce a home victory, with Kerr unbeaten in the qualifying heats with 15+1.
Sam Masters said: “When we got into the semi-final, we said we’d just put in 100 per cent and see what happens and what will be will be, but unfortunately it didn’t work out in our favour.
“Lewi was so fast all night, and he didn’t deserve to finish at the back in the semi, but he just couldn’t find his way past the Glasgow boys. I was trying to slow them down as much as I could. But that’s only so much you can do, before it starts to become dangerous, and I don’t want to cause any danger.
“The crowd were awesome – we got such a reception every time we took to the track. You could hear them from under the helmets when we were racing and that’s cool. We couldn’t win it for them, but hopefully they were happy with what we did do.
“I had a lot of fun riding with Lewi today. We get on well off the track and ride well tonight on it as well. We combined well as a pair and we team rode out front in a few races. It didn’t work out in the semi-final, but Bomber and Basso put some good races together between them – congratulations to Glasgow because they deserved it.”
REDCAR 25: Charles Wright 14+2, Danny King 11+1
OXFORD 25: Lewis Kerr 15+1, Sam Masters 10+2
GLASGOW 23: Chris Harris 12+2, Benjamin Basso 11+1
POOLE 17: Ben Cook 11+1, Richard Lawson 6+1
SCUNTHORPE 17: Ryan Douglas 13+1, Simon Lambert 4
BERWICK 15: Jye Etheridge 8+1, Leon Flint 7
EDINBURGH 14: Josh Pickering 12, Luke Killeen 2+1
BIRMINGHAM 14: Justin Sedgmen 12, Troy Batchelor 2+1
PLYMOUTH 12: Kyle Howarth 8, Max Perry 4
Semi-final 1: Wright, King, Lawson, B Cook (Redcar beat Poole 7-2)
Semi-final 2: Masters, Harris, Basso, Kerr (Glasgow beat Oxford 5-4)
Final: Basso, Wright, Harris, King (Glasgow beat Redcar 6-3)
PHOTO: Lewis Kerr and Sam Masters take a 7-2 over Poole in Heat 6 (PIC: STEVE EDMUNDS)