Nicholls and Hampel to conquer the world

SPEEDWAY: Brilliant performances by Scott Nicholls and Jarek Hampel ensured that the race for the Sky Sports Elite League speedway championship extends into October.

BRILLIANT performances by Scott Nicholls and Jarek Hampel ensured that the race for the Sky Sports Elite League speedway championship extends into October.

The trophy was in the Foxhall Stadium pits – along with seven medals – but Ipswich Evening Star/Woodward's Witches delayed the Oxford party with a courageous victory.

With Poole Pirates winning at Peterborough they can still overtake the Cheetahs for the title. But one victory from their two remaining fixtures – at home to Coventry on October 5 and back at Ipswich on October 9 – will see Oxford crowned champions.

Nicholls and Hampel both scored maximums and Ipswich team boss Mike Smillie has predicted that both have the potential to become world champion.

It was Hampel's first full house for the Witches, and the rest of the side rose to the occasion and covered admirably for returning skipper Chris Louis.

The 32-year-old – out for over three months following a serious head injury – looked ring rusty and in need of a few more meetings before he becomes competitive again.

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In his 13 seasons riding for Ipswich Louis has never failed to score before – but his lack of points last night was perfectly understandable and he will benefit from his four races.

Nicholls has the confidence and ability to beat anybody at the moment and not for one moment did he look like dropping any points.

Hampel, at 19 by far the most likely rider to take over Poland's number one position from Tomasz Gollob, was not necessarily making great starts, but he was finding superb speed going into the first turn and had no difficulty seeing off the opposition.

On a well-prepared circuit his winning time in heat one was just .03 seconds outside Louis' track record set in July 2000.

It was an even match until heat 14 when Oxford's world came crashing down. Both their programmed riders were excluded – Steve Johnston for exceeding the two minute time rule and Ales Dryml after crashing on the third bend – as news came through from Peterborough that Poole had collected three points at the East of England showground.

Oxford's supporters on the back straight were silenced as Savalas Clouting and Jeremy Doncaster completed a 5-1 to put Ipswich into the lead for the first time – and confirm that Oxford must wait at least until next Friday to cross the championship finishing line.

The previous eight heats had all been drawn with the Witches winning seven of the races but unable to fill the minor places.

Nicholls and Hampel were not the only home riders to deserve special praise. This was without doubt Clouting's best match of the season and if had previously shown the same command as last night he would at least have doubled his meagre average.

Was this really the same rider who went five matches without a scoring a single point earlier in the season?

Doncaster was paid for nine points while Craig Boyce got the right gear and dropped just one point after a barren first ride.

Jason Bunyan scored just one point, but his aggressive pass on Andrew Appleton in heat two showed his commitment to the cause.

If American Greg Hancock had guested for Louis, as he was scheduled to do on Oxford's rained-off meeting at Foxhall last month, the Ipswich win would have been much more decisive.

But any win on Oxford's first visit to Foxhall this season was particularly pleasing for a Witches side seething at the absence of Lukas Dryml because off flu.

His controversial non-appearance allowed Oxford to use the rider replacement and on a technicality they could use all their riders to cover.

This facility accrued a paid nine points, which is probably a few more than Dryml would have scored even though his brother Ales was a thorn in Ipswich's side with eight points from the reserve berth.

The match made good television although a fire in the satellite dish outside the stadium caused the Sky Sports presentation to be disrupted.

Sky had arranged that this should be the B fixture – the A fixture follows on October 9 – as Oxford had more chance of confirming the title after winning 59-31 in the corresponding home match.

After a succession of wet Thursdays and a meeting last Monday that was run in persistent rain, Ipswich appear to have found a magic formula by moving to Tuesday nights for the remainder of their home meetings.

It was a pleasant early autumn night. After Louis' understandably tentative ride in heat one and Bunyan's lap three pass on Appleton in heat two, Oxford took the lead with their only heat advantage of the night. Rider replacement Todd Wiltshire and Steve Johnston beat Doncaster and Boyce.

But it was this Ipswich pair who levelled the scores in heat five with a 5-1 success over Wiltshire and Brian Andersen.

Louis had carburettor problems at the start of heat six and ended up borrowing Nicholls' machine – being passed by Appleton on the second bend.

Clouting went round the outside of Andersen for half a lap in heat 11 as the drawn heats continued with the top Ipswich riders reigning supreme.

Everything came to a head in heat 14. Johnston found a mechanical problem deep into the two-minute time allowance and was timed out.

Doncaster and Clouting were in a 5-1 position when Dryml went too wide and crashed into the fence on the third bend. In the re-run Clouting passed Doncaster for a rare race win.

It was left to Nicholls and Hampel to put the icing on the cake with a comfortable maximum success in the final heat – and keep Ipswich on course to catch Coventry and finish in third place. The Bees have two matches left, at Oxford and Ipswich.