Saturday, April 13, 2024
Oxford Speedway

REACTION: “You can’t start the season in a better way that winning your first meeting – it’s great to get a win under our belts.”

TOP-FLIGHT speedway returned to Oxford Stadium for the first time in 17 years, as the OXS Oxford Spires started their season with a 47-43 Premiership victory over the Birmingham Brummies last night (Thursday).

The meeting went all the way to the final race, with Brummies needing a 5-1 to take the opening meeting in British Speedway in 2024 to a Superheat.

Scott Nicholls and Steve Worrall held that 5-1 for a lap, before Oxford Spires’ skipper Chris Harris flew around Worrall after a lap. Harris briefly went in pursuit of race leader Nicholls, but then settled for the second place that would secure victory for Spires.

On the final bend, Worrall tried a last-ditch effort to round Harris, but drifted wide and Oxford No 1 Maciej Janowski snatched third place in a finish so tight that referee Matthew Wear consulted Oxford’s brand new streaming service before handing the verdict to the Polish superstar.

Both the meetings at Leicester and Sheffield were called off early in the day, but the Oxford track had been tyre packed after the press and practice for Spires on Wednesday, in readiness for showers predicted yesterday afternoon. A heavy shower did turn up, but it has ceased by 7pm and the track held up well, as both sides put on a show for a bumper opening night crowd.

Spires got off to a flying start and led 25-11 after six heats, taking back-to-back 5-1s in Heats 5 and 6, while Lewis Kerr came into Heat 4 and won it, after team-mate Rohan Tungate was excluded for nudging the starting tapes.

The pairing of Janowski and Charles Wright was particularly effective, taking maximums in both their opening two outings, with the Pole stealing second place from Nicholls on the final bend of Heat 6.

Brummies then staged a comeback with three successive heat advantages to close within six points.

16-year-old Ashton Boughen was very impressive on his debut for Spires, defeating opposite number Leon Flint in his opening two rides. Boughen was unlucky in Heat 8. He was leading the race, with Wright involved in a great battle with the Birmingham pair of Tom Brennan and Flint, when Wright took an awkward tumble on the second bend of lap two, after things got very tight. A battered and bruised Wright was excluded from the re-run and also withdrew from his final outing, while Brummies took a 5-1 to close the scores.

Oxford appeared to build up some breathing space with a 4-2 from Tungate and Kerr in Heat 11, but Zach Cook passed Spires’ Nicolai Klindt to win Heat 12, as Brummies edged back with a 4-2 of their own.

Birmingham team manager Sam Ermolenko placed Steve Worrall into Heat 13, and he joined Nicholls for a 5-1, as the scoreline moved to 40-38.

Harris produced a captain’s ride for Spires, by thrusting inside Worrall at the start of the second lap in Heat 14, as he and Kerr took a 4-2 and Spires built up a four-point lead heading into the decisive Heat 15.

Spires’ skipper and top scorer Chris Harris said: “You can’t start the season in a better way that winning your first meeting. It’s great to get a win under our belts – it was a good team effort.

“A last-heat decider is great for the fans and I hope they enjoyed the meeting. Their support tonight was fantastic and hopefully they’ll come back next week and we can give them another victory.

“It was going to be a tough one tonight. Maciej had never ridden in a competitive meeting here before, neither had Rohan or Nicolai, and the conditions were very different to the press and practice. Once they get fully dialled in, we’ll be alright, while conditions were a leveller tonight. The track staff did a great job with the track after the heavy rain – there was some good racing.

“I started off with a couple of good gates, but was having to pass riders after that. I pulled off the moves in the last couple of races to get the points that we needed to win the meeting.”

Spires entertain defending Premiership champions Sheffield next Thursday (March 21), with former World Champions Tai Woffinden and Chris Holder in a star-studded Sheffield line-up and a very large crowd is expected.

OXS Oxford Spires 47: Maciej Janowski 9+2, Charles Wright 5+1, Nicolai Klindt 4+1, Chris Harris 13, Rohan Tungate 5, Lewis Kerr 8+1, Ashton Boughen 3+1.

Birmingham Brummies 43: Vaclav Milik 1, Tom Brennan 5+1, Wiktor Lampart 5+1, Steve Worrall 11, Scott Nicholls 11+1, Zach Cook 7, Leon Flint 3.

PHOTO: Key moment, as Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris defeats opposing captain Steve Worrall in Heat 14 (pic: Steve Edmunds)