Pass masters have one hand on trophy

Published on 31st March 2024
Author George Dodds
Opening salvo, Danyon inside Craig Cook

Jewson Bandits, powered by Keenwood Karpets 56

Workington GT Tyres Comets 34

If this is an example of what 2024 has in store then Bandits’ fans’ forecasts of something very special happening in the Borders may not be far off the mark.

Management, riders, club owners will always err on the side of caution, urge people not to get too carried away by one result. But as fans we are allowed to dream a little.

Especially when that sense of excitement comes not so much from a 22-point victory but the manner in which it was achieved. New riders raised the pulses on the terraces, instant heroes were created with some tenacious and brave racing, a never say die approach which created a palpable buzz among a decent looking opening night crowd.

True Berwick also enjoyed huge strokes of good fortune in opening heats when there was barely a cigarette paper between the sides, not to mention the loss of Workington talisman and Shielfield Park specialist Craig Cook with a suspected broken thumb after a relatively innocuous looking heat five tumble.

That fall not only cost the visitors a nailed-on 5-1 but his absence put extra pressure on an inexperienced middle order and tail made up of four divisional debutants, including and a trio having their first rides in Britain.

But Berwick rattled up 56 points – including seven 5-1s – despite the top two of Lewis Kerr and Rory Schlein having, by their standards, quiet nights. Into the breach stepped debutants Danyon Hume along with reserves Freddy Hodder and Bastian Borke while Jye Etheridge produced the kind of Shielfield shift we’ve come to associate with our adopted Aussie.

Much had been made pre-meeting of Workington’s powerhouse top two but Hume put down an immediate marker by jetting from the gate to leave Cook and Vissing half a straight behind in heat one.

Former Berwick Academy man Sam McGurk won the second before the home side were gifted their first huge slice of luck in three.

Drew Kemp shed a chain at the gate and was still sat on-track, up against the kerb when Antti Volas and Tate Zischke led Etheridge around the first lap. Referee Graeme Hunter stopped the race, excluded and fined Kemp for not leaving the track and Etheridge grabbed the reprieve with both hands by going tapes to flag in the rerun.

Borke brought the crowd to his feet by battling back after Batchelor had rounded him early in four, the veteran using a big back wheel and the home straight fence to fend off the young Dane only for the winter signing to produce an exquisite cutback off the final bend of the race and pip the Australian to the flag.

Cook’s crash and subsequent loss of a 5-1 in five opened the floodgates and Berwick took their chance ruthlessly with back-to-back maximum heat wins.

Batchelor’s tape touching exclusion in six made it straightforward for Kerr and Hume before Hodder launched himself from gate four around the field on the first two bends in breath-taking fashion, his skipper Schlein finally getting the better of Vuolas off the final bend after a great battle with the Finn.

Bastian pressures Antti Vuolas into an error

Borke was at it again in eight, gating appallingly but gradually reeling in McGurk before selling him a dummy, going round the teenager on the final bend as he looked for a repeat of the Dane’s earlier inside cutback.

Etheridge rounded and Kemp took the inside line against a bemused Batchelor for another 5-1 while Vuolas – worth far more than his four-point return – was again hauled in by first Hume and then Kerr in ten.

Hodder was at it again in 11 showing incredible speed and no little bravery to blast past Batchelor down the back straight to join Schlein for as the Bandits extended their lead to 22 points.

Then it was Borke’s turn to bring his new fans to their feet again in 12 as, with Etheridge off into the distance, he pressured Vuolas into overcooking the third bend, the Finn falling when he seemed set to become the victim of another stunning Danish swoop.

Vissing and Batchelor pulled four points back in 13 and the same pair inflicted another 5-1 on Hume and Etheridge in 15 to keep Workington in the tie.

Freddy looking very fast

In between Hodder produced another special ride to follow Kemp home for the Bandits’ seventh heat maximum of the night in 14.

Tougher tests to come? Possibly, even probably, but the pre-season feeling that Berwick’s strength in depth will trouble most teams this season holds strong.

And that they have signed a team of racers who never know when they are beaten.

As opening nights go there’s not been many better in recent history.

Bring on Sunday’s second leg!

Bandits: Lewis Kerr 4+2, Danyon Hume 12, Jye Etheridge 10+1, Drew Kemp 7+1, Rory Schlein 7+1, Freddy Hodder 8+3, Bastian Borke 8+2

Comets: Craig Cook 2, Claus Vissing 13+1, Antti Vuolas 4, Tate Zischke 2+1, Troy Batchelor 8+2, Sam McGurk 4, Celina Liebmann 1

Pictures: Taz McDougall
The skipper in full flow
George Dodds
George Dodds

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