Witches slump to defeat on poor track
AS current Elite League sides go, Peterborough Panthers are right up there with the very best.As track preparation goes, the Alwalton circuit leaves much to be desired.
By Mike Bacon
AS current Elite League sides go, Peterborough Panthers are right up there with the very best.
As track preparation goes, the Alwalton circuit leaves much to be desired.
For the second time this season, Ipswich Evening Star Witches travelled to Peterborough and found themselves facing the most atrociously-prepared racing strip you could wish to see.
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Quite whether the mass of shale and slime laid down at the start was deliberate, or just poor misjudgement by the Panthers management, is open to conjecture.
The effect it did have - and not for the first time on a Witches' visit this season - was to turn a fine, fast race track into a lottery early on.
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Tractors and graders were shooting round the track at pace, having their own mini-race right up to start time, trying to rectify some of the damage, with riders from both sides unhappy with the surface.
Although the result tells of a defeat for the visitors, this was a meeting of two halves, with the second belonging to the Witches.
The first half-dozen heats were tentatively ridden by all of the Witches and most of the Panthers, with the home side shooting into a ten-point lead.
When the surface did settle down, the Witches took advantage and gained confidence to reel off a succession of heat victories to get within six points.
The poor start, hindered greatly by the track, meant they never looked likely to beat the Panthers, who were well led by former Witch Hans Andersen.
He was only beaten by Witches' skipper Chris Louis, while Danny King impressed for the visitors with two heat victories.
Ales Dryml was guesting for the visitors in place of Piotr Protasiewicz, who was riding in the Polish Championships. Dryml was caught out on the heavy surface, getting into all sorts of problems in the first race, as Ulrich Ostergaard passed him and the home side got off to a 5-1 start.
After a lengthy delay because a spectator was taken ill, King gained Ipswich's first race win of the night, gating from the start in heat two. Robert Miskowiak split the strong Panthers' pairing of Neils Kristian Iversen and Ryan Sullivan, but with Louis adrift at the back the home side extended their lead.
Andersen was a comfortable victor in the next and Iversen and Kim Jansson had a terrific first-lap battle before the home man won as Peterborough extended their lead to eight points at 19-11.
The track was proving impossible for good, fast racing and the Witches were soon ten points down, despite Mark Loram's efforts in passing Ostergaard on lap two in heat six.
Miskowiak gave Ipswich their second heat win of the night as he held off Ostergaard and the Witches were now set for a spurt of heat victories, as the track levelled out and the proper racing began.
Ten points down, the Witches could have used a tactical ride, but quite who Witches' team manager Mike Smillie could put his money on was pure guesswork.
Heat eight was the best race of the night with Ostergaard again in the thick of the action passing the fast-starting King down the back straight before the youngster swooped back underneath him on the third bend of the second lap.
That saw a Witches 4-2, with the visitors now eight points behind. Loram lowered Iversen's colours in heat nine before Louis at last came to the party, shooting from the inside gate to hold off Andersen.
The two riders went over the finish line together, but it was Louis who got the nod as Ipswich reduced the home side's lead to six points.
Sullivan was away fastest in the next, but just as Louis had found his party invitation, so did Dryml. He swooped round the outside of Sullivan in thrilling fashion on the second lap of heat 11 as Ipswich continued to make a fight of it, trailing 36-30 with four heats to go.
Sullivan won his first race of the night in heat 12 with the Witches still six points behind and although Dryml passed Iversen on lap two in the next, the home side's first heat advantage since the sixth, put them eight points ahead.
Louis was involved in another great scrap in heat 14 as he and Iversen went side by side for four pulsating laps with the Ipswich skipper again getting the nod.
The night ended with Andersen reeling off his fifth win and although Iversen and Dryml had a great battle for second, it was the home man who gained second place as the Panthers finished as they had begun - with a 5-1 maximum and a ten-point victory.
What they said
IPSWICH Evening Star Witches promoter John Louis slammed the state of the Peterborough circuit after his side's ten-point defeat at Alwalton last night.
Louis was furious with a circuit that had riders from both sides unhappy.
“For the past couple of seasons, I seem to be coming here and seeing a track so awfully prepared, I can't believe it,” he said.
“I'm not sure whether it is deliberate or they are just not capable of preparing a track.
“I have never seen it as bad as it was tonight.
“The track is their stage. People sit in the stand and look down on it and they must think, 'what on earth is going on'?
“Everything at Peterborough is so good - the team, the pit area, the stadium, but the track, the most important thing of all, is a
“It is not sour grapes because we have battled well here tonight and even the home side had riders who were unhappy.”
Skipper Chris Louis echoed many of his father's thoughts.
“This was a reasonable recovery from us because at one stage it looked like we might be in for a hammering”, he said.
“It was interesting to read in the papers yesterday morning that Peterborough were going to prepare a track with plenty of grip.
“Grip is not what they produced and I should know, because I have ridden at Ipswich for goodness knows how many years, when years ago there was real grip, not just heavy shale as this was tonight.
“The track was badly prepared, it's as simple as that and even the home riders were unhappy with it at the start.”
Ipswich's Swedish youngster Kim Jansson said: “To say the track was difficult early on is a bit of an understatement and I didn't feel at all comfortable.
“My races were finished by heat 11 and of course by then, the track was in much better condition.”
Former Witch Hans Andersen commented: “I should have had a maximum and shouldn't be beaten by Chris Louis around here.
“I thought the track was OK, although some riders just didn't like it.
“I think both Ipswich and Peterborough will be in the play-offs at the end of the season.”