MATCH REPORT: First 8 through to the British Final

August bank holiday weekends here so we have the semi-finals for the British Open Championships. Sheffield’s Graves centre track is the setting with 32 riders initially competing for just eight places, the remainder then facing another race off at Astley on Sunday.

For the riders it’s paramount to put together five good rides, which can be undone by a bit of misfortune, an error of judgement or the dreaded referee decision that goes against you. Both semi’s have at least eight or nine riders that fancy their chances to qualify today, making for some cut and thrust racing.

The first four races sees Myke Grimes have to recover from a poor first bend to claim a third place, Zac Payne makes a good pass on Jake Read in a re-run heat 3, Lewis Roberts inexplicably getting a tapes exclusion, and then Adam Stephenson steams through to pass Ben Scrannage in heat 4. Ashley Hill wins his second grid one in heat 5, with first heat winner Richard Fellgett second. Scrannage takes heat 6, with Grimes having to come from the back again (this time passing Josh Hill and Read after almost performing a donut on the first corner). Josh Brooke takes an accomplished win in heat from Chris Timms. Stephenson wins heat 8 and Aaron Herbert crashes out after clashing with Harry Everiss. After two races each Brooke, Hill, Stephenson and Fellgett hold the qualifying places. Stephenson wins his second grid one with defeat of the Ipswich pair of Brooke and Fellgett. This first bit of drama arrives in heat 10 with Roberts away from Harris and Grimes. Grimes fights his way past Harris and then Roberts, the Ipswich rider then trying to repass around the outside only to cause a big crash. Roberts receives his second exclusion, while Grimes and Harris receive first aid treatment before continuing. Harris wins the re-run (lady luck smiling as he was in third when the race was stopped), with Grimes having to be content with second. Timms wins the next race as he begins to warm to the challenge, but behind him Scrannage is caught knapping by Payne and losses a point that would prove vital at the later stages. Mark Winwood comes into contention with a win in heat 12 while the previously unbeaten Ashley Hill finishes last. Three races down and now the top four are Brooke, Stephenson, Timms and Harris. Scrannage wins heat 13 from Winwood, both riders now on 12 points. Brooke wins smoothly in heat 14 to go onto 15 points and almost seal qualification. Timms coasts to a heat 15 win, with Harris getting the better of Stephenson and Read behind him. Herbert takes heat 16 with a comfortable win. Four races down and it’s still Brooke, Timms, Harris and Stephenson with the golden tickets, with five other riders still in with a shout should the leaders slip up. Fellgett takes himself to 15 points with a brilliant ride in heat 17 to pip Read as the riders crossed the finish line. Grimes holds his grid one in heat 18 (also moving to 15 points), with Stephenson second and Winwood’s chance gone with a last place. Timms wins heat 19 with a well-judged patient race to pass the Ipswich pair of Roberts and Ashley Hill. Hill crashes on the last bend to finish last and totals 12 points, and is left bitterly disappointed as he led with eight points from his opening two rides. As the riders line up for the last race only Timms has qualified for sure. So the last race has Herbert on one (who’s been out of contention with two lasts), Brooke on two needs to finish third or better to qualify, Scrannage on three needs to win and Harris on four needs at least a second place. First time of asking and Herbert is away to flying start with Brooke happy to sit in second. Harris and Scrannage come together, with the Bury rider sliding off on the infield. Referee Darren Kent adjudges that Harris is the cause and the veteran is excluded for cutting across his opponent . The Swindon riders luck deserting him just when he needed it. The re-run sees Herbert again streak away, with Brooke again happy to sit for the second that will see him qualify. With Harris now out of the equation and Stephenson safely in the final, 15 points would give you a run-off for the final qualifying place. Scrannage needing second place for that run-off gains exclusion after barging into Brooke on the final corner in a desperate bid for the three points. Race over and Brooke joins Timms and Stephenson in the final. Leaving Fellgett and Grimes to race off for the final place and a Sunday rest day. Fellgett goes from two and leads round the first bend and first lap. Grimes then puts track knowledge to good effect (he races for Sheffield in the Elite league), to pull a good pass down the back straight on lap two. Fellgett nearly repeats the act entering lap three but has the door firmly shut by Grimes who goes on to take the win and a place at Bury. Fellgett left to try again at Astley. Several riders are left to rue the odd incident but nobody finished the meeting better than Herbert, who must now relish his second chance at Astley.

Semi-Final two is arguable the stronger field. We have four former champions (Terry Norman, Lee Aris, Andy Angell and Mark Boaler) plus Laurels winner Mark Carmichael and the multi talented Paul Heard and Ben Mould. Race one sees Heard off to a confident start, but Carmichael is unable to find a way past the wily Norman. Leon Mower opens with a good win in heat two. Mould and Angell make rapid starts from the outside grids in heat three to cross the line in that order. Aris looks super sharp with a blistering start in heat 4 as he streaks away for the win. Boaler spins on the gate (the only rider to do so all day) and has to pass Kyle Holland for a third place start. Aris comes out again to win his second grid one, with Mould looking comfortable in second. Boaler recovers from his nightmare start to take race 6, with Heard happy for second place. Angell wins race 7 with a super start (who says this guy can’t gate). Chris Parish wins heat 8 as Carmichaels challenge falters after taking a big hit from Ben Higham. Two races down and we have Aris on 8 points, with Angell, Heard, Mould and Mower on 7. Angell is again quick away in heat 9 to win from Norman. Heard wins heat 10 with his Wednesfield partner Mould taking race 11. Boaler again having to fight his way from the back, this time against the Bury pair of Parish and Will Owens. Carmichael gets his game going with a win in heat 12, defeating Aris. Three rides down and it’s the big four of Angell, Aris, Heard and Mould all on 11 points and sitting pretty. Boaler and Mower are on 9 points and hoping for someone to slip up. Boaler wins heat 13 to move onto 13 points and put pressure on the riders ahead. Heat 14 had Angell, Aris and Heard, so something had to give. A potential last place would put that rider below Boalers total. Angell was again away with a fast start and looking home and dry on 15 points. Bury’s Parish finished ahead of Heard and Aris (who now only has 12 points). Craig Nethercott claimed a good win in heat 15, which was followed by Mould beating Carmichael in heat 16. With one race each left the top four are now Angell, Mould, Boaler and Heard. Matt Hill wins heat 17, with Norman third and any outside chance of the top four gone. Heard and Mould booked their final places in an accomplished fashion with first and second in heat 18. Aris wins heat 19 to go onto 16 points and will now benefit from any mistakes from Angell or Boaler. As with the first semi-final all the sensationalism occurs in the last race. Angell can’t repeat his first four super starts and trials Carmichael round turn one, Boaler is second (but needs to win to avoid a run-off with Aris). Angell has slipped to third (this still is good enough to go through). The Yorkshireman though is not for sitting and (perhaps trying to put a marker down) crashes heavily attempting a pass on Boaler. He remounts but is now last and he’s facing a three rider run off with Boaler and Aris for the final qualifying place. On the last corner Boaler (who needs the win to qualify) catches and hits Carmichael hard (the Welshman hitting the deck) to go through for the win to take him through and leave Angell and Aris to race off for the final spot. Referee Bob Prince judges that the two ex-Horspath team mates have colluded to produce this result and disqualifies both for team riding. Nethercott is awarded the win, with a limping home Angell given second place and automatic qualification. Aris is the other automatic qualifier, although for thirty second is was first facing a run-off with Boaler, then Angell then a three rider run-off then automatic qualification. What drama this sport can produce.

So the racing is over for today and we know our first eight finalists. Brooke and Timms looked especially confident from the first semi and looked to still have something up their sleeve. Grimes and Stephenson hard to work alot harder for qualification, but both will relish another final appearance. From the second semi it was the Wednesfield duo of Heard and Mould that went through comfortably. Although until his crash no-one was more impressive than Angell. All will now depend on how that sore keen heals. Aris will be pleased to not have to try again at Astley, especially after posting a last place in his fourth race. Of those that have to try again we have Boaler, Carmichael, Harris and Scrannage having to bounce back from what might have been. Fellgett and Ashley Hill both have to regroup after the disappointment of having almost made it. While Winwood, Norman, Parish and Herbert will relish a second opportunity. What’s in the script for the Astley qualifiers ?

If it’s as interesting as today then you wouldn’t want to miss it.

Thanks to Robert Mawhood for the detailed report.