CROWDS flocked to the Norfolk Arena to witness the Elite League debut of Emil Sayfutdinov – but King’s Lynn No.1 Kenneth Bjerre was clearly determined to stamp his authority on proceedings on his home circuit.
Sayfutdinov made an all-action British bow, winning two races and being involved in plenty of action, but he couldn’t quite get the better of a fired-up Bjerre, whose Heat 15 ride ensured maximum points for his side.
Just as at Birmingham a fortnight ago, the Buildbase Bees will be concerned by the way they fell away in the second half of the meeting, although once again they were left going into an away match without not one, but two members of their top five.
This time the absentees were Przemek Pawlicki, due the Polish Pairs Championship, and Kenni Larsen, stranded in Denmark as the 2011 version of last year’s volcanic ash cloud crisis chose exactly the wrong moment to pass over his airspace.
Granted a guest facility as was the case last season, Bees brought in former King’s Lynn man Troy Batchelor to replace Pawlicki, although the fact that they had already declared the Pole at No.2 meant that their team configuration wasn’t ideal with Batchelor partnering Sayfutdinov and the rider replacement facility for Larsen paired with Ryan Fisher.
The start was delayed as the crowd packed in, and when racing got underway Sayfutdinov found himself on gate four against the fast-starting Bjerre in Heat 1, with the Dane duly making it to the first bend in front whilst Sayfutdinov, who had been sent wide, sliced back up the inside and went from fourth to second in a flash before putting pressure on his opposing No.1 who held a perfect line throughout the race.
It was a 3-3 to start with and Bees gained a bonus in Heat 2 when Lasse Bjerre ploughed into the tapes, with the visitors taking full advantage in the re-run as Josh Auty shot from the start and Richard Sweetman comfortably held back the challenge of Filip Sitera for a Coventry 5-1.
The lead was to be short-lived, however, as Olly Allen produced a trademark start to lead Heat 3 whilst Mads Korneliussen came up with a terrific ride to go past Sweetman into the third bend and then keep his inside move going to get the better of Fisher at the start of the second lap, which levelled the scores at 9-9.
Niels-Kristian Iversen took the win in Heat 4 ahead of a challenging Edward Kennett, but it was the Stars who edged in front when Sitera took advantage of Auty getting slightly out of shape at the start of the last lap, the former Coventry man getting around the outside for third place up the back straight.
Heat 5 produced the tightest of first bends with Allen going down as Sayfutdinov went around the outside, and although Korneliussen hit the front, the Russian quickly hunted him down and made a strong passing move into the second lap, which briefly looked like it might create space for Batchelor to follow him through. In the event, a 4-2 enabled Bees to level again at 15-15.
The sixth race was shared in routine fashion, Kenneth Bjerre heading home Kennett and Sweetman, but the meeting appeared to turn in the next race when Fisher and Auty both made excellent starts which left Iversen some way back. The Dane wasn’t in a challenging position into the third bend but he went wide in an attempt to make up ground, but spun and fell and, as things transpired, dislocated his shoulder.
Iversen was ruled out for the remainder of the meeting although the re-run enabled King’s Lynn to turn a 1-5 into a 2-4 as on this occasion Lasse Bjerre made a better start than Auty and split the Bees duo.
Bees maintained their lead in a shared Heat 8, won by Batchelor, but it could have been more as they held a 4-2 in the early stages before Auty, in his attempts to find a way past Sitera, went too wide on the second lap which gave Sam Masters the chance to find a way through.
And the Stars brought the match back into their favour thanks to the Allen/Korneliussen combination in Heat 9, this time getting the better of Kennett in what was a frantic battle for second place in particular as Kennett tried every way possible to get past Korneliussen and almost did so on the last lap with the Dane just winning the race to the finishing line.
There had already been one re-start which went against Coventry, but Heat 10 was arguably a bigger blow because they held a 5-1 situation coming off the second bend and crucially Kenneth Bjerre had made a nightmare start and was mired at the back. Auty, however, couldn’t quite get back to the inside to block the strong challenge of Masters, and as Auty tried to hit back around the outside he picked up drive, lifted and crashed heavily coming off turn four.
The Bees youngster was fortunately able to walk away after treatment but he was always going to be disqualified from the re-run, with Masters’ move having been an important one in terms of giving Bjerre a second opportunity which he was never likely to turn down.
Bjerre duly took the re-run ahead of Fisher for a King’s Lynn 4-2 which made it 32-28 – but with Iversen out, Bees were looking at the likelihood of an almost certain 5-1 in Heat 11 as they fielded Sayfutdinov and Batchelor against the Stars’ reserves Sitera and Lasse Bjerre.
But although Sayfutdinov made the start, what happened elsewhere wasn’t part of the script as Batchelor found himself third behind Bjerre up the back straight, and he was then vulnerable to a dive off turn for by Sitera which took all of Batchelor’s momentum and set up a 3-3 for the Stars which always looked like it would prove crucial to the outcome of the meeting.
Fisher, who was fast and smooth all night, kept Bees in touch by winning Heat 12 with Sitera and Allen covering second and third places, and the elder Bjerre got the job done for his side in the next race, which was also shared although Sayfutdinov and Kennett had to combine in the later stages to fend off an enthusiastic attack by Lasse Bjerre.
That was seemingly an indicator of what was to come shortly after as the Stars made the match safe in a fine Heat 14 from their perspective, with the Bees making good starts but Korneliussen went from last to first within the space of a lap – and then, not to be outdone, Bjerre followed his partner and managed to clear Fisher for second place by the end of the second lap.
Bees were now out of contention for the win and were left requiring a heat advantage from the final race to salvage a point which they had probably deserved over the balance of the action – but even that was to be denied them, despite flying starts by Sayfutdinov and Kennett which left Kenneth Bjerre in third place.
Off turn four, however, Bjerre charged down the inside and almost took both in one move – in fact, Sayfutdinov held the lead, but Kenentt came to grief exiting turn two and the Stars’ three points were effectively safe, although Bjerre kept on chasing, determined to complete his maximum, and he did so with a tremendous passing move on Sayfutdinov on turns three and four to confirm that he would indeed go through the card, and that the Bees would go home with nothing.