Weather beats the Witches

Peterborough 22 Ipswich 20 (match abandoned after seven heats, waterlogged track): A SHORT, sharp localised downpour put paid to this Sky Sports Elite League fixture at Peterborough last night.

By Elvin King

Peterborough 22 Ipswich 20 (match abandoned after seven heats, waterlogged track)

A SHORT, sharp localised downpour put paid to this Sky Sports Elite League fixture at Peterborough last night.

One corner of the East of England showground did not get any rain at all, but the speedway track was under water within five minutes.

When referee Dave Peet arrived trackside after the rain had stopped, there was no chance of the meeting continuing.

Which was a shame, as it was boiling up to an exciting finish with Ipswich Evening Star Witches just two points adrift after seven races. They looked capable of pulling off a vital win in their quest for a top five play-off place.

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The paying customers, who did not get any financial refund as the meeting had carried beyond six races, were treated to some first class action before the rain arrived.

The 2002 World Cup final is being staged at Peterborough on August 10, and if the racing is as good as this then it should be some spectacle.

But if the weather is dodgy then it could be disastrous.

Bob Ellis, the Ipswich track curator, was a spectator last night, and he is certain he would have got the show back on the road in half an hour at Foxhall Stadium.

"The 'kittylitter' they use here as shale doesn't bind," he said. "Five tons of clay would make all the difference, and make Alwalton into a beautiful circuit."

Peet confirmed that he had no option. "I am not into pantomimes," he said. "It would have been a farce to carry on, and would have been unfair on the paying public.

"The track is bone hard underneath and there is no drainage."

And Witches team manager Mike Smillie agreed with the decision. "There is no way we could have raced despite the rain only lasting five minutes or so," he said. "A bit more dirt would have soaked up some of the rain, but it was down to the bone before the heavy shower."

Smillie confirmed that Pole Jarek Hampel's chances of riding in place of the injured Chris Louis from the meeting at Poole a fortnight tomorrow until August have increased after Hampel managed to opt out of a couple of domestic meetings that clashed with Ipswich matches.

He will not be available for all Witches meetings, but there is likely to be only one match where a guest facility will not be available in his absence.

Steve Johnston, Louis' likely replacement for the home match against Wolves on June 13, again did well in a Witches race jacket, just losing out to home number one Ryan Sullivan in heat one.

Johnston led to the final corner when he slowed and Sullivan nipped through. Shane Parker passed Jeremy Doncaster on the second bend for third place.

Chris Harris chased Leigh Lanham hard in heat two before sliding off on the final bend. The fast-gating Magnus Zetterstrom finished well ahead.

Craig Boyce and Lanham were first to reach the first bend in heat three, but Hans Clausen went inside the latter on the fourth turn. The 4-2 to Ipswich levelled the scores with Lanham beating Sam Tesar into last place.

Heat four was a classic with Scott Nicholls and Chris Slabon making another fast Ipswich break. Piotr Protasiewicz went outside Slabon on the second bend and then Protasiewicz made a brave move round the outside of Nicholls.

There was precious little room between the Ipswich man and the fence racing along the home straight on the first lap – but the Pole forced his way through somehow.

However, Nicholls was in no mood to lose out and after two further full throttle circuits he went flying round on the outside to win in some style.

With Slabon beating Zetterstrom, the Witches were now ahead, although the scores were level again after the next race when Tesar and Clausen made the best start. The admirable Johnston passed Clausen coming out of the second bend.

Heat six saw the Panthers regain the lead when Sullivan roared round the outside of the opening corner. Lanham almost reached the turn in time to stop his charge, but in the end had to settle for last place.

It was raining by the time race seven began. Boyce made the best break and Harris slid off on the third turn at the back.

Boyce, obviously finding it impossible to see in the rain, slowed into third place and signalled to the referee's box as he completed his second circuit that it was not fit to carry on.

Riders, officials and spectators out in the open all dashed for cover once the four laps had been completed.

Although the rain soon stopped – and within ten minutes the sun was out - the damage had been done.


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