Saturday, April 13, 2024
Oxford Speedway

REACTION: “A big thank you to the Oxford fans. We can hear the supporters cheering inside our helmets at the start of the race. They are our eighth man and we appreciate it.”

OXS OXFORD SPIRES are top of the early Premiership standings, after they defeated reigning champions Sheffield Tigers by 47-43 at Oxford Stadium last night (Thursday) in front of a huge crowd.

Sheffield defeated Ipswich in the final of the play-offs last October. Many consider them as favourites once more this season with a side headed by treble British World Champion Tai Woffinden, 2012 World Champion Chris Holder and current World No 4 Jack Holder.

But it was Spires who stormed ten points clear by the interval stage (35-25), and held on after Tigers’ top stars reduced the deficit in the closing stages.

With many of the sport’s big guns still getting used to the Oxford track – although Woffinden gave it a glowing tribute following the meeting last night – it was the some of the riders who have ridden around Sandy Lane at Championship level in the previous two years who shone the brightest last night.

Charles Wright shrugged off a nasty fall from the previous week to win three successive races and top score for Spires with 11 points. He was again a faller – this time in Heat 15 – but he got almost straight to his feet and was okay afterwards.

Lewis Kerr was another who took a tumble during the night. He carried on with a groin injury, sustained after connecting with the fence in Heat 7, and produced the match-winning 4-2 with skipper Chris Harris in Heat 14. Both Harris and Rohan Tungate scored nine points apiece in another fine team display by Spires.

It was nip and tuck in the early stages with Jack Holder thrown out of Heat 1, after taking the wheel away of Spires’ Polish No 1 Maciej Janowski in the initial staging. The quality possessed by Sheffield’s top five was demonstrated when Kyle Howarth won the re-run.

Harris battled back past Josh Pickering to win Heat 3, while Pickering went wide into the path of team-mate Chris Holder causing him to fall and remount at the back, as Spires moved ahead with a 4-2.

Sheffield held a 5-1 for almost the entirety of Heat 4, before Rohan Tungate produced a dash around the outside to grab second place from Dan Gilkes on the line. It was the second very tight finish in a row, since Pickering had almost made a similar move stick against Harris in Heat 3.

Spires then moved ahead with a 5-1 from Harris and Nicolai Klindt in Heat 5 – Klindt rode on despite suffering with a bad migraine all evening.

Oxford took another maximum in Heat 6, although there was an element of good fortune this time around, as race-leader Woffinden pulled out with a mechanical gremlin.

Tigers pulled back a 4-2 in Heat 7, while Heat 8 looked like it could be another 5-1 to Spires, after Wright carved through the Sheffield pair on the opening half lap to join Ashton Boughen at the front. But 16-year-old Boughen made a slight mistake on the second bend of lap three, lost momentum and the experienced Howarth took second place. Boughen regained his composure to take third ahead of Gilkes.

Heat 9 was shared, after Klindt passed Jason Edwards for third on the opening lap. Wright won his third successive race in Heat 10, while there was plenty of excitement behind him as Janowski pushed inside Chris Holder into third and also challenged Pickering for second as Spires moved ten points in front with a 4-2.

After a shared Heat 11, Sheffield boss Simon Stead introduced Tai Woffinden into Heat 12 as a tactical substitute and he joined Chris Holder for a 5-1 as Tigers reduced the gap to six points.

Tigers also had an all-star pairing in Heat 13. Jack Holder stormed ahead, despite an early challenge from Tungate, while Tungate and Janowski pegged back Woffinden into fourth place – the British megastar’s first-ever genuine defeat at Sandy Lane.

Heat 14 was the race of the evening, as Spires clinched victory with a 4-2. Kerr won the race, and missed the action going on behind him as Pickering and Harris passed each other four times, before the Sheffield man took the verdict, with a fine outside pass with a lap remaining.

Woffinden and Jack Holder took a consolation 5-1 in Heat 15 which makes it a bit tighter when the two sides met again at Owlerton next Thursday (March 28) with the aggregate bonus point also at stake.

Charles Wright, who top scored for Spires with 11 points and won Rider Of The Night, said: “The most important thing is that we beat Sheffield. They’re a strong team and the reigning champions, so it was a very good win for us.

“We’ve got two wins at home and that’s what we want to keep doing. It’s about winning your home meetings and then winning away when you can. For the first meeting last week, the track was hit by rain and that wasn’t ideal for us, but we still won it against Birmingham and then we showed what we can do tonight against Sheffield.

“I came down in my last one, but I had a good night prior to that. Sheffield have some good riders, but I don’t look who I’m against in each race. I just focus on my job in each race, which is to go out and try to win it and I did that a few times tonight, so I’m happy.

“Riding at No 2, I hadn’t been out since Heat 10. The track was good tonight, but it had changed by Heat 15. The temperature had dipped by then and my tyre was cold – it was like trying to ride on a sheet of ice going into the corner because of that. I’ve just got a bit of a sore behind, but I’m all good and ready for the meeting at Sheffield next week.

“It was my testimonial up at Redcar on Sunday. That was quite stressful. It wasn’t supposed to rain, but then it did, and we just about got it on. I had a few sleepless nights beforehand, and have never slept so much since. I enjoyed the day but it’s good to get it out of the way and to be able to focus on my racing.

“A big thank you to the Oxford fans. We can hear the supporters cheering inside our helmets at the start of the race. They are our eighth man and we appreciate it.”

OXS Oxford Spires 47: Maciej Janowski 5+3, Charles Wright 11, Nicolai Klindt 5+2, Chris Harris 9, Rohan Tungate 9, Lewis Kerr 7+1, Ashton Boughen 1.

Sheffield Tigers 43: Jack Holder 9+1, Kyle Howarth 5, Chris Holder 5+1, Josh Pickering 7, Tai Woffinden 12, Jason Edwards 3, Dan Gilkes 2+1.

PHOTO: Charles Wright leads Josh Pickering, Maciej Janowski and Chris Holder in Heat 10 (pic: Steve Edmunds)