COVENTRY Storm raced to a convincing 55-40 win at Buxton on Sunday – to put one foot firmly into the semi-finals of the National League Knockout Cup.
Luke Crang scored a four-ride paid maximum for the City Gearboxes Storm, whose top four on the day were all in consistent race-winning form at the Hi-Edge Raceway in the continued absence of British Under-19 Champion Stefan Nielsen.
Crang formed a dynamic partnership with Oliver Greenwood, with both riders thankfully back from injury and securing 5-1 advantages in all three of their races together.
Skipper James Sarjeant reeled off wins in his first three rides before unluckily spinning out on turn four in Heat 13 when he looked set for a 5-1 with Greenwood, whilst Oliver’s namesake Dan collected impressive wins in his last two outings.
Reserve duo Ryan Terry-Daley and Martin Knuckey helped the Storm make a terrific start to the meeting as they scored an untroubled 5-1 in Heat 2, although both were then involved in a series of incidents in tough track conditions.
The home side had fallers in each of the first three races, Ryan Blacklock coming to grief when he held the lead on the fourth bend of Heat 3, whilst Knuckey came down twice in Heat 4 with Sarjeant a clear winner.
Crang and Oliver Greenwood had seen off home No.1 Liam Carr in Heat 1 and did the job again in Heat 5 against Blacklock and Tom Woolley, whilst a good first lap of action in Heat 6 saw Sarjeant re-pass Carr to extend the Storm’s lead to 14 points.
The vastly experienced Tony Atkin won a tactical ride in Heat 7 for the Hitmen with Knuckey coming down right at the exit of turn four when holding third place, whilst Terry-Daley was a first-bend faller in Heat 9 and Knuckey went into the second-bend air-fence in the next race when making a determined effort to pass Adam Extance.
But further race wins for Crang and Sarjeant maintained a nine-point Coventry lead, which became 13 when Crang and Oliver Greenwood held an ever-trying Atkin at bay in Heat 11.
Dan Greenwood hit the front in Heat 12 only for the race to be stopped when Terry-Daley and Extance tangled on turn three, with the home rider disqualified. Greenwood repeated his fast start next time out to limit Blacklock, taking the second tactical ride, to four points.
Carr ended Oliver Greenwood’s unbeaten run by winning Heat 13 at the second attempt after Sarjeant had fallen, the Storm captain being frustrated by a broken clutch lever as he tried to clear his machine from the circuit.
The gap at this stage was 11 points but the Storm further extended it in the final two races, Dan Greenwood taking Heat 14 after a fall for Stefan Farnaby, and there was another 4-2 in the last as Oliver Greenwood rounded Carr on turn two with Sarjeant just failing to make it through on the inside.
It means the Storm take a 15-point lead into the second leg at Brandon on a date to be confirmed, and they next go into action in the National League at King’s Lynn on Friday.
Manager Laurence Rogers said: “It was an excellent job done by the whole team on what was a very rough track. We did ask for it to be graded after two races and that was when we were 10-2 up, but it was a great team performance.
“Olly and Luke were a tremendous opening partnership, Sarj was on it, and Dan was back to his best. It was nice to have most of the team back together and helping each other, and also nice to see the Coventry fans here to support them – it’s very much appreciated.
“I do feel sorry for Martin Knuckey because he put a lot in on a track where he broke his arm two years ago, and he was trying so hard.
“Now we need to get the second leg arranged as soon as we can, because a semi-final against a certain Cradley would be a very nice one!”
BUXTON 40: Liam Carr 11, Tony Atkin 10, Ryan Blacklock 7, Tom Woolley 6+1, Adam Extance 4, Stefan Farnaby 2+1, Sean Phillips 0. COVENTRY 55: Oliver Greenwood 13+1, Dan Greenwood 12, Luke Crang 10+2, James Sarjeant 10, Ryan Terry-Daley 8+1, Martin Knuckey 2+1, Stefan Nielsen r/r.
BUXTON 40 Liam Carr 1 2 3 3 2 = 11 Sean Phillips F R X = 0 Ryan Blacklock 1 1 2 4^ = 7 Tom Woolley 3 0 1* 2 = 6+1 Tony Atkin 2 6^ 1 1 0 = 10 Stefan Farnaby F 1* 1 0 X = 2+1 Adam Extance 1 M 2 1 X = 4
COVENTRY 55 Oliver Greenwood 2* 3 3 2 3 = 13+1 Luke Crang 3 2* 3 2* = 10+2 Stefan Nielsen Rider Replacement Dan Greenwood 2 2 2 3 3 = 12 James Sarjeant 3 3 3 X 1 = 10 Ryan Terry-Daley 3 1* 1 1 F 1 1 = 8+1 Martin Knuckey 2* X X X = 2+1