WHEN both of the Coventry reserves were buried in the air-fence at opposite ends of the track on the first lap of Heat 2, you would have got long odds on the final margin of victory in this meeting.
The last thing any team can contend with is the loss of both reserves at the start of the match, but it did look a distinct possibility for a time until Josh Auty, after treatment, made a spectacular re-entry into the contest with a string of overtaking moves.
And that allowed a very solid Buildbase Bees fivesome to clock up a big home victory, despite having trailed after five races, and Auty aside the biggest bright spot was a terrific performance from winter signing Kenni Larsen, who looked every inch the rider the club were determined to bring in over the winter, with a paid-16 haul.
Two familiar faces took the guest bookings at No.1, Chris Harris lining up once again for the Buildbase Bees and Rory Schlein stepping in for the Hammers with Lee Richardson absent due to the re-arranged British Under-21 semi-final, a meeting which also took out Richardson’s team-mate Stuart Robson as well as Bees skipper Edward Kennett, with Bees therefore using rider-replacement for their No.3 by average Przemek Pawlicki.
It was Schlein who got the best start in Heat 1, Harris initially being behind partner Ryan Fisher before making his way into second place and offering a strong challenge to Schlein, with the Australian just holding the advantage as Harris tried to cut back off the final bend.
Heat 2, though, was when the Bees hit trouble, first when Auty lost control on turn two and although he managed to part company with his machine, both rider and bike made heavy contact with the fence. Worse was to follow though, as with the red lights already on for a race stoppage, Sweetman and leader Ricky Wells made contact on the third and fourth bend, resulting in Sweetman hurtling alarmingly into the barriers, whilst Wells fortunately got away with a much lighter fall.
Sweetman did walk off the circuit from turn four after treatment, whilst Auty took the medical vehicle back to the pits, and it was no great surprise when Wells and Robert Mear collected a 5-1 over the far from fit Sweetman, who would take no further part in the meeting following further medical attention.
Bees hit straight back straight away with a 5-1 of their own in Heat 3, Fisher and Larsen making it look fairly straightforward against what appeared a strong Hammers pairing of Adam Shields and Piotr Swiderski, but the visitors took the lead again in the next race when Wells pounced on a turn two error by Batchelor to notch his second straight win, whilst Auty looked uncomfortable at the back behind Mear.
Schlein kept the Hammers ahead with a routine win in Heat 5, although the indications were that Kauko Nieminen was going to struggle throughout the evening, but the Bees then hit their opponents with a barrage of 5-1s which put the meeting completely out of Lakeside’s reach.
Harris and Larsen both gated in Heat 6 but a surprise challenge from Mear followed as he rounded Harris as the Coventry No.1 was clamping off Wells on turn two. Harris quickly switched back and re-passed Mear into the second lap, but the Lakeside youngster was more than making his point and displaying exactly why Jon Cook had handed him the captaincy in the absence of Richardson.
Auty then began to play a starring role in the meeting, starting in Heat 7 when he gated at the back with Batchelor up-front – and with Shields and Swiderski both taking an inside line, Auty simply flew around the pair on turns three and four to go into the second lap in second place for a superb paid win.
With Sweetman unavailable, Auty was set for a busy evening and he was at it again in Heat 8, with Harris not surprisingly taking full control of a race he would always have expected to dominate. This time as Auty tried the outside swoop Nieminen came to a stop, resulting in Auty having to switch back slightly, but he still managed to round Wells and complete the 5-1 which put Bees ten points up.
Lakeside, however, had few tactical ride options at this stage, and they made the right move to go with the programmed line-up in a frantic Heat 9 which initially saw Fisher gate with Larsen moving Mear aside into the third bend to go second – until Fisher went too wide off bend four and dropped himself from first to third place as all three went into the second lap together. Fisher moved back for the inside, though, on the third bend and strongly regained second place with Mear probably deserving more for his efforts in the most competitive of races.
The first tactical ride was used in Heat 10, Shields going for double against the strong combination of Harris and Batchelor, so the 4-4 outcome wasn’t totally bad news for Lakeside as at least it ended the run of Coventry 5-1s with Shields beating Batchelor to second place.
It gave the visitors a glimmer of hope for salvaging a point, as they had a Schlein tactical ride on the way with the gap at 14 points, and those hopes might have been raised further when the previously struggling Nieminen made a good start in Heat 11 and very nearly rounded Batchelor off turn two. However, it all went wrong for the Hammers again on bends three and four with Auty making his trademark move once again, Schlein and Nieminen being stuck on the same line as each other, and the Bees reserve emerging in second place. Schlein’s return challenge was then resisted by Auty with a superb ride which all but ensured the destination of all three points.
The busy Auty re-appeared in Heat 12 but on this occasion Shields made the best start and rode four perfect laps with Mear coming to grief going into the first bend and being fortunate not to take any of the other three riders with him, so the Hammers skipper quickly cleared the track.
Harris and Batchelor outgated Schlein in Heat 13 and a good race ensued with Schlein keen to regain ground on Batchelor, particularly with memories of their recent clash in the Elite League Pairs. It was Schlein who had the better of this battle, too, with a good passing move going into the last lap which split the Coventry combination, not that it was going to make a significant difference to the overall outcome.
Auty’s final party piece came in Heat 14, which Larsen led by a distance, and this time the Bees’ reserve left his move until the end of the third lap but again made it work off turn four to get the second place off Wells, and the reaction afforded to both riders after another 5-1 was absolutely deserved.
Schlein had the final say with his third win of the night at the end of a good personal performance, taking Heat 15 from Larsen and Harris, but the big hole in the Lakeside middle-order meant his side for the night were nowhere near strong enough to live with a fine display from the five remaining Coventry riders.