Ben Barker claims impressive win at Somerset Rebels Winter Cracker
Ben Barker put in an impressive shift to win the Somerset Rebels Winter Cracker meeting at the Oaktree Arena last night (writes Dave Thompson).
The new Ipswich Witches No.1 dropped just one point from his five heats before storming to victory in the grand final ahead of Ryan Fisher, Richard Hall and Simon Lambert.
In the early stages, with riders shaking off several months of inactivity and putting machines in order, some of the race winners took a distinct advantage from slick starting.
But as the meeting progressed, the track came into play, with a dirt line developing on the outside.
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Fisher, Barker, Kyle Newman and David Howe all opened up with wins.
Ritchie Hawkins took an excellent second place to Fisher in the opener, following more than six months without any racing.
Hall made a fantastic start in Heat 4, and looked to have sewn up his first three points of the year, when disaster struck, as his machine lost power on the second lap.
Hall coaxed it around until the final bend where it finally gave up, leaving him to push it home for a point, and gifting David Howe a welcome win on his return from last year’s injury plagued season.
The second round of heats was not kind to a couple of riders, with Rusty Harrison’s machine steadfastly refusing to start after stopping on the way to the tapes.
Whatever ailed his machine, it was to cause the end of his participation in the event.
Ritchie Hawkins, after his promising opening ride, suffered from his bike losing power after three laps, forcing his retirement on the next. It took another two races before his team traced the problems to a minute piece of dirt in the carburettor, but not before they had stripped virtually everything down, drained the fuel system between each of his races.
The leaders appeared from the pack as Ryan Fisher and Ben Barker took their second wins of the evening, as they were joined in the winner’s circle by Andrew Tully and Simon Lambert, who posted their first wins of the night.
With riders now getting to grips with competitive racing again, and the track making dirt, the fast starters were beginning to see their early advantage challenged, and Richard Hall took advantage of the new found grip outside.
With Lewis Bridger, riding an ‘upright’, excluded for missing the two-minute warning, after his machine had refused to start and convey him to the line, Ricky Ashworth made a flying exit from the tapes, with Hall in second spot.
As Ashworth led into the back straight, Hall moved out wide, and came with a storming run into the third bend, charging around the wide line, until he powered to the front off the first bend on the next lap. Once at the front he opened a gap, which Ashworth had no answer to, and the pair pulled clear of Lewis Kerr to take major points.
Whilst Barker added a third win to his tally, Fisher's run came to an end at the hands of the Somerset Rebels sole representative, Newman.
As Rebels fans know well, Newman is not a respecter of reputations, and when he gets the chance he can mix it with the best of them. Making a great start on the outside, he clamped Fisher tight to the kerb in the opening turn.
Fisher in turn tried to muscle him wide, but Newman is a tough cookie, and held his line superbly well to relegate Fisher into second.
Once at the head of affairs, Newman was in the dirt like a flash, and despite his best efforts Fisher could not get in a blow at the Poole-based Rebel.
Newman’s second win kept him in the hunt for a top four finish. David Howe added a second win to go with his previous five points to put him well in contention of a final spot at the halfway stage.
Fisher got his challenge back on track in Heat 13, as he bolted clear of the outside gate, with Simon Lambert getting the better of Andrew Tully in the turn.
Tully quickly stuck it up the inside of Lambert at the next, before putting himself out in the wide stuff to charge after the flying Fisher. Tully tried everything he knew, coaxing every ounce of grip out of the track, but despite closing on the charging Californian, he could not get on terms.
Meanwhile at the back, Lewis Bridger was giving an entertaining display on the ‘Upright’, popping wheelies as he took the straights, or like a long tracker, hanging off the rear of the seat, and lying almost flat along the bike in his quest for extra speed.
With Fisher's scalp under his belt, Kyle Newman must have had designs on adding Barker to his list of high profile conquests, but he never got to the tapes to try. He suffered problems with the spark plug, and his machine would not come to life when it mattered.
Speedway riders are a generous bunch, and often loan bits from their machines to allow others to complete their meeting, and Newman is no exception, but in this case it cost him his place in the race, as he could not now use his second machine, when his main bike failed, leaving him with an uphill task to qualify for the final.
For his part, Barker added to his unbeaten tally, but as the tapes rose that result looked anything but likely, as Ricky Ashworth and David Howe broke level, with Barker trailing the pair around the opening turns.
The Cornishman moved out wide, and laid down a potent run on the outside of the back straight, that saw him overhaul, first Howe, and then just get over the top of Ashworth into the third turn.
Once at the front he soon put yards between himself and Ashworth, with David Howe having to retire on the next lap, as he shed a chain.
Lewis Kerr took Heat 15, to add a win to his impressive opening second place, behind Ben Barker in second race of the night.
This time he accounted for Brendan Johnson and Richard Andrews, after the luckless Ritchie Hawkins retired, still suffering from his earlier, and as yet, undiscovered carburetion problems. Richard Hall put another win in his book, as he battled out an exciting race with Kevin Doolan, who was not going to give up his chance of a win easily.
Hall had lead early, but this time he was the one having to hold off the charger, as the pair slugged it out side-by-side for most of the four laps.
To the watching fans, it looked for all the world that Ben Barker would go unbeaten through the qualifying heats, but Ryan Fisher had other ideas, and when the pair met in Heat 17 they produced the race of the night to entertain the watching crowd.
As the tapes rose they could not be separated on the run to the turn, but with the outside line from gate two, Barker looked to just have the advantage, until Fisher moved him wide in the turn, and stole the lead away on the run to the back straight.
Barker renewed his challenge and slipped up the inside of the third turn, but Fisher held firm, and emerged still in front. Barker then produced a storming ride, as he threw everything at Fisher, moving inside and out to find a route to the front, and for the next three laps he was all over the Peterborough star, and former Plymouth Devils team mate, as he endeavoured to save his unbeaten status, but the classy Fisher held him at bay to the flag, with Richard Hall an interested spectator in third place.
Ricky Ashworth took Heat 18, and in doing so, prevented Andrew Tully from qualifying directly to the final with Barker and Fisher, but instead forcing him into a runoff with Richard Hall for a spot in the line up.
David Howe blew his chances of a final spot, when he could only take third place in Heat 19, behind Lewis Bridger, who having abandoned the ‘Upright', was now mounted on Brendan Johnson’s machine, and Ritchie Hawkins, who put in a pleasing display, after suffering three races with carburettor problems.
Two more looking for a place in the final line up, Simon Lambert and Kyle Newman clashed in Heat 20, with Newman needing a win to put him in the race off, and Lambert looking for a second.
In the event Newman probably made his worse start of the night, and found himself in third spot as they exited the first turn. Lambert fared better as he took up the running from the fast starting Lewis Kerr down the back straight, and the rest soon followed him through.
Kevin Dolan had taken second spot, with Newman all over him, on the outside. Just as it looked like Newman would take second spot, and pursue Lambert for the lead, he overcooked it in the opening turns and lost all his momentum, leaving him with an uphill battle that he wasn’t to win. Lambert took the win, and with it an automatic spot in the final line up.
Hall and Tully contested the runoff for the final spot, and there was never much between them, with the start proving decisive.
Tully hooked up a big lift off the tapes, and it was enough to give Hall the leeway he needed, and once in front he took to what had become his familiar line on the night, out wide, powering round the dirt line.
Tully also took to the deep, but it was too late, and despite never being far off Halls rear wheel, he could not close the gap Hall had created around the opening turns, and it was Hall who progressed.
Fisher had the gate choice by virtue of his win over Barker in Heat 16, and chose the outside, Barker took the Blue gate, Lambert Red, leaving Hall with White. Fisher may have had the choice, but it was Barker who made the best of his gate, despite Fisher getting the drop off the tapes.
Barker shot up the inside line into the first turn, and emerged in front, and as soon as he had opened a gap, he headed immediately out to the fence, and rocketed around the widest of lines. Fisher was not far away, and eased himself up the inside of Barker on the third turn, but the Ipswich and Birmingham ace had it all under control giving his opponents a diminishing view of his back wheel as he went.
Richard Hall was never far away from the chasing Fisher, but had to content himself with third spot, as the fans showed their appreciation for an entertaining meeting to start the year. The meeting proved to be highly entertaining, and the finalist were presented with their trophies by meeting sponsors Salt Express, who will again be involved with the Rebels in 2013.
1. Ryan Fisher (Peterborough) - 3, 3, 2, 3, 3 = 14 + 2
2. Ricky Ashworth (Berwick) - 0, 2, 2, 2, 3 = 9
3. Ritchie Hawkins (Unattached) - 2, R, R, R, 2 = 4
4. Kevin Doolan (Leicester) - 1, 2, 1, 2, 2 = 8
5. Lewis Kerr (Kings Lynn Young Stars) - 2, 0, 1, 3, 0 = 6
6. Rusty Harrison (Workington) - 0, X, NS, NS, NS = 0
7. Andrew Tully (Newcastle) - 1, 3, 2, 2, 2 = 10
8. Ben Barker (Birmingham/Ipswich) - 3, 3, 3, 3, 2 = 14 + 3
9. Ashley Morris (Workington/Dudley) - R, 1, 1, 1, 0 = 3
10. Richard Andrews (Unattached) - 2, 1, 0, 1, 0 = 4
11. Kyle Newman (Somerset) - 3, 1, 3, X, 1 = 8
12. Lewis Bridger (Lakeside) - R, 0, X, 0, 3 = 3
13. David Howe (Scunthorpe) - 3, 2, 3, R, 1 = 9
14. Simon Lambert (Rye House) - 2, 3, 2, 1, 3 = 11 + 0
15. Richard Hall (Sheffield) - 1, 2, 3, 3, 1 = 10 + 1
16. Brendan Johnson (Coventry Storm) - R, 1, 1, 2, 1 = 5
Heat 01: Fisher, Hawkins, Doolan, Ashworth. 57.84
Heat 02: Barker, Kerr, Tully, Harrison. 58.41
Heat 03 (Re-Run): Newman, Andrews, Morris (Retired), Bridger (Retired). 59.07
Heat 04: Howe, Lambert, Hall, Johnson (Retired). 59.31
Heat 05: Fisher, Howe, Morris, Kerr. 57.85
Heat 06: Lambert, Ashworth, Andrews, Harrison (Excluded).
Heat 07: Tully, Hall, Newman, Hawkins (Retired). 58.78
Heat 08: Barker, Doolan, Johnson, Bridger. 58.53
Heat 09: Newman, Fisher, Johnson. 58.88
Heat 10: Hall, Ashworth, Kerr, Bridger (Excluded). 58.35
Heat 11: Barker, Lambert, Morris, Hawkins (Retired). 58.59
Heat 12: Howe, Tully, Doolan, Andrews. 59.66
Heat 13: Fisher, Tully, Lambert, Bridger. 59.41
Heat 14: Barker, Ashworth, Howe (Retired), Newman (Excluded). 59.16
Heat 15: Kerr, Johnson, Andrews, Hawkins (Retired). 60.71
Heat 16: Hall, Doolan, Morris. 60.06
Heat 17: Fisher, Barker, Hall, Andrews. 59.63
Heat 18: Ashworth, Tully, Johnson, Morris. 60.62
Heat 19: Bridger, Hawkins, Howe. 60.12
Heat 20: Lambert, Doolan, Newman, Kerr. 60.56
Run-Off: Hall, Tully. 60.09
Grand Final: Barker, Fisher, Hall, Lambert. 58.63