EMIL Sayfutdinov’s home debut was always likely to be eventful – but nobody could have predicted the drama which would occur at both the start and the end of the meeting, both involving the Russian newcomer.
A big first-bend pile-up in Heat 1 and a mind-boggling disqualification in Heat 15 book-ended Sayfutdinov’s first Brandon appearance, with the Buildbase Bees working hard to fend off King’s Lynn’s stubborn resistance although the unsatisfactory events of the last race ensured the Stars would leave with a point.
Both sides were forced into changes, with Tai Woffinden proving to be an outstanding guest for Edward Kennett, although the seven points gained from rider-replacement for Przemyslaw Pawlicki was almost certainly less than could have been expected from the Pole, and Bees were also weakened at reserve without Peter Kildemand.
That said, the Stars would have expected more than five points from Niels-Kristian Iversen had the Dane been available, and the absence of Lasse Bjerre at reserve went some way to countering Coventry being without Kildemand.
In front of a big crowd, the meeting got off to an explosive start with a three-man pile-up involving Sayfutdinov, Ryan Fisher and Tomas Topinka – and the Czech rider in fact somehow managed to go straight between the scattering Bees riders without hitting either before he went down, and that undoubtedly prevented further carnage and injuries.
With all four back for the re-run, Topinka made a perfect start but was overtaken by Fisher exiting turn two with Sayfutdinov also closing in before the red lights came on and Topinka was issued with a warning.
Even if Topinka had moved at the start, Bees would have taken the race position as it was because Kenneth Bjerre was mired at the back, and in the second re-run he predictably made no mistake as the Bees, with Sayfudtinov forced to switch machines, covered second and third places as Topinka stopped at the end of the first lap.
Nick Morris did exactly as Coventry had hoped by winning Heat 2, but guest reserve Justin Sedgmen was left at the back with Lee Complin challenging Morris until seemingly losing power at the end of the third lap and being protected from Sedgmen by Filip Sitera for a second shared heat.
Bees, though, broke the deadlock in the next race with Fisher making a good start from gate three and Kenni Larsen pegging the inside line off turn two to make it past Mads Korneliussen and give Coventry the first 5-1 of the night.
The next race was shared after a competitive first lap, Woffinden taking Olly Allen wide on bend two and then likewise on turn four as the Stars’ skipper picked up speed around the outside, but King’s Lynn halved the gap in the next race with another win for Bjerre and a third from Korneliussen, who was passed this time around the outside by Larsen on the first half-lap, with Fisher at the back on this occasion.
Bees quickly regained the initiative with Larsen and Sayfutdinov collecting maximum points over Allen in Heat 6, and they gained a real bonus when the Stars gated in the next race only for Korneliussen to take partner Topinka wide. Woffinden accepted the open gap on the inside to lead, and Topinka’s defence of third place over Morris looked safe enough until the run to the line when he lifted violently and Morrris shot through for the point.
The match situation enabled Bees to deploy their reserves in Heat 8, saving Woffinden’s rider-replacement outing whereas the Stars had to use Bjerre who was, as expected the winner, even though Sedgmen made a good start and led the Dane for the first half-lap. Crucially, Sitera fell on the turn one and that prevented any chance of King’s Lynn taking points back.
Allen rode a fine first lap to hold off the challenge of Larsen in a shared Heat 9, whilst the outcome of Heat 10 was far from disastrous either for the Stars as they conceded a 4-2 rather than a 5-1, putting them exactly ten points down. It was Sayfutdinov’s first win at Brandon, but Korneliussen held on to second place as Woffinden dropped points for the first time.
Bjerre took the black-and-white helmet colour for Heat 11 and duly produced six points, not without a strong Woffinden challenge in the second half of the race, but there was plenty of action for third place too with Morris slipping inside Allen on turn two of lap three, only for Allen to hit back into the third bend. Morris got slightly out of shape exiting the bend and Allen came back through for third place and a 7-2 which halved the gap to five points.
The Stars kept the pressure on with a 4-2 in Heat 12, Korneliussen taking his first win with a powerful ride around the outside from gate 4 over Fisher, whilst Sitera held third place over Sedgmen leaving the scores at 39-36.
A big Heat 13 was on the way, and again it was King’s Lynn who gated with Bjerre and Allen, only for Woffinden to conjure a wonderful manoeuvre on the back straight to go clean through the middle or the pair. Sayfutdinov quickly regained ground after being boxed in on turn two, and midway through the race he drove inside Allen to give Bees a 4-2 and extend the gap back to five points.
Heat 14 clearly favoured Coventry on paper with Larsen and Morris against Topinka and Sitera, but the reality was totally different as Larsen found himself squeezed out as Morris worked his way to the front on the first lap, but was always under threat from Sitera on his outside. The ex-Bees man finally completed the move midway through the race, and the battle for third place between Topinka and Larsen was also in attendance, and for a split-second it looked like disaster for Coventry as Topinka came inside Morris into the last lap – but the Bees reserve had had to switch lines as Sitera slowed, so although Topinka held on for a surprise win, Morris and Larsen salvaged second and third to virtually secure match victory for Coventry.
They still needed an advantage from Heat 15, though, for all three points, so a dramatic conclusion was in store and Bees will hope that what happened next does not turn out to be a season-defining incident.
The Stars riders made much the better starts, Bjerre on the inside and Korneliussen on the outside, but Sayfutdinov was quickly in to challenge, and he immediately took advantage of a gap inside Korneliussen on turns three and four. The Russian completed the move cleanly, there was no hint of contact between the riders, and there wasn’t even a swing-out of the rear wheel as he went through. Sayfutdinov had the move completed as Korneliussen, still with plenty of track to work with, made a genuine error and went into the fence off turn four. But the blue disqualification light immediately shone and pandemonium ensued in the pits and amongst the crowd.
The replay merely confirmed the first impressions of what had happened, and Alun Rossiter was firmly of the opinion afterwards that the sport should make more use of them on a regular basis to eliminate the chance of errors, rather than only in televised meetings.
The disqualification took away the significance of the race, other than the fact that Woffinden still had to finish to make sure Bees weren’t pegged back to a draw, but a further re-run was required when Korneliussen went down again in what did appear a clear case of first-bend bunching.
At the third time of asking, Woffinden again rode superbly to pick up speed on the back straight and make it into turn three ahead of Bjerre for another race win. The Coventry guest, and regular Wolverhampton rider, thoroughly deserved the standing ovation he was afforded by the Coventry crowd.
It had certainly been a week in which refereeing decisions had come under the spotlight, and Bees ended it having gained a point at Wolverhampton but lost it again at home four nights later.
That means at the halfway stage of Elite League competition, they have dropped four points at home and gained three away. Not a disastrous record, and certainly much better than this time last year, but the ratio will need to improve in the second half of the season to reach the top four – and with, hopefully, a settled side through July and August, they very much have the ability to do just that.