Monday, July 15, 2024
Oxford SpeedwaySpires

REACTION: “I feel quite emotional about it all – I don’t want to bang on about it too much, but life’s been tough and now I’m enjoying my racing again and it means the world to me, because I love this sport. It feels like a weight has dropped off my shoulders tonight.”

OXS Oxford Spires pushed defending ROWE Motor Oil Premiership champions Sheffield Tigers all the way to the final heat at Owlerton last night (Thursday), before losing by 41-49.

There was a sensational debut for 36-year-old Craig Cook for Spires, who has been initially been signed as 28-day injury replacement for Lewi Kerr.

Former British Champion Cook finished last season in a troubled frame of mind and taking a break from the sport he loves, after a bizarre and freak accident at Edinburgh which saw his stray bike hit photographer Peter Hill.

2024 has seen a chance for the Cumbrian to return home, with the elevation of Workington to the Cab Direct Championship. He has been reeling off maximums at the Northside Arena and Spires have given him the opportunity to show what is he capable of at the top level.

Cook became the first rider to beat recent Croatian Grand Prix winner Jack Holder around Owlerton this season – he did that twice in Heat 6 and Heat 15. He also beat former treble World Champion Tai Woffinden in Heat 15 and 2012 World Champion Chris Holder in Heat 9.

Cook was only denied a paid 18-point maximum when Chris Holder overhauled him on the final lap of Heat 12.

Spires started the evening by conceding five 4-2s in the opening five races, before Cook and skipper Chris Harris took a 4-2 in Heat 9. For much of the race, that was a 5-1, before Chris Holder passed Harris on the third lap.

Spires’ No 1 Maciej Janowski, on his first-ever visit to Sheffield took two rides to learn the set-up at Owlerton, but then handed Woffinden his first defeat of the evening with a tapes-to-flag win in Heat 11.

Rohan Tungate came into Heat 12 as a tactical substitute. He and Cook held a 5-1 for much of the race, before Chris Holder stole second from Cook.

A 5-1 to Sheffield big guns Woffinden and Jack Holder in Heat 13 secured victory on the night for Tigers, but there was still the aggregate bonus point to Spires to go for.

Initially, Cook and Tungate held a 5-1 in Heat 14. Josh Pickering passed Tungate for second, but Cook then held off Pickering’s determined challenge to win the race.

Spires needed a 5-1 in Heat 15 to tie on aggregate and force a Superheat. Cook again trapped, and on the third bend, Tungate looked like he may have the speed to round Jack Holder for second place. But Holder held him off and then Woffinden relieved the battling Tungate of third place on the second circuit.

Cook (16) and Tungate (10) were the leading lights for Spires, while there was also a seven-point tally from Erik Riss, despite his elevation from No 6 to No 2.

Sheffield often batter sides around Owlerton and very few visiting sides will come away with 41 points this season.

Craig Cook said: “It was amazing. It’s only around my sixth meeting of the year, coming back after the way that last year ended. I’ve changed quite a few things on my bikes this year. The whole package, including the engines, just seem to be gelling as one.

“I’m happy to be back in the top-flight and delighted to start with such a great meeting for myself. It was a shame that the team just lost out, but the Sheffield are the champions and their boys are very strong around here.

“All we can do is look forwards. I’ve ridden with most of my team-mates at Oxford before and I’m excited to see what the next matches bring, because we’ve got a good side.

“I was a bit gutted that I went just a little bit wide in one race and Chris (Holder) came past, otherwise I’d ended up with an 18-point maximum, but I can’t complain too much after scoring 16 points around here! Especially when you look at the strength of the Sheffield heat-leaders: they’ve got two World Champions and a future World Champion in their line-up.

“Heat 15 was a special way to finish the night, by beating both Tai Woffinden and Jack Holder in the same race, because they were on fire going into that race. I feel quite emotional about it all – I don’t want to bang on about it too much, but life’s been tough and now I’m enjoying my racing again and it means the world to me, because I love this sport. It feels like a weight has dropped off my shoulders tonight.”

Sheffield Tigers 49: Jack Holder 11+2, Kyle Howarth 5, Chris Holder 10, Josh Pickering 4, Tai Woffinden 12+1, Jason Edwards 2, Dan Gilkes 5+1.

OXS Oxford Spires 41: Maciej Janowski 4, Erik Riss 7, Charles Wright 1+1, Rohan Tungate 10, Chris Harris 3, Craig Cook 16, Ashton Boughen 0.

Photo: Rohan Tungate scored 10 points for Spires (pic: Ian Wagstaff)