Reading Racers 19-17 Kent Kestrels
Reading Racers 19-17 Kent Kestrels

2018 Southern Development League [SDL] Champions, the Kent Crayford Kestrels rounded off their campaign with a two point defeat against the team they deposed as title holders, Reading Racers at Eastbourne Speedway on Saturday.

The Crayford Supporters- sponsored Kestrels were beaten by the Racers 19-17 in a match that went down to a last heat decider.
The Kestrels were much changed from their regular line up – missing broken wrist victim, James Laker and their unbeaten talisman, Alex Spooner who suffered a further injury set-back crashing in the Kings’ match against Eastbourne Eagles which preceded the SDL match. Coming in to join regulars Jamie Couzins and Andrew Palmer were rookies Max Pankhurst and Chris Watts. With such depleted ranks and up against a very strong Reading outfit (who even had unusually got one of the Kings’ full team members in their line up in William O’Keefe!) that the Kestrels took Reading all the way to a last heat decider was to their enormous credit.

A rerun first race saw Racers’ hihly-rated teenager Daniel Gilkes take the win but the points were was shared as his team mate Stephen Whitehouse took a tumble in the first staging resulting in exclusion.
Reading then took the lead in the second race as Nick Laurence stormed to a win with Jamie Couzins overhauling O’Keefe to prevent a Racers’ maximum.
In heat 3 the plucky Kestrels then wiped out the lead established by the home side, The Racers’ star man Gilkes had a coming together with the fence on bend two and though he remounted to give chase his bike was damaged and he failed to finish. Couzins took the win ahead of Whitehouse and Watts to level the scores at nine apiece.

Another shared heat followed when after Pankhurst had started from a 15 metres handicap for breaking the tapes, O’Keefe slid off on the second bend of the second lap. The close following Palmer expertly laid his bike down to avoid him. The Canterbury-based Kestrel he did manage to remount and follow his team mate, Pankhurst home – the pair both some distance behind Laurence.

Laurence again led all the way in heat 5 but the race of the night was going on behind him. Whitehouse and Watts swapped places several times as the home man stuck to the outside line, and looked to have sealed it going into the third bend of the last lap only to drift out and again crash into the fourth bend fence.
 
With the scores level at 15-15 and one race left, O’Keefe withdrew complaining of pain in his knee from his earlier crash. The up to this point unbeaten Laurence replaced him and led the race from Gilkes as the Racers looked to wrap up the win. Gilkes moved ahead of his team mate and Couzins eventually relieved a tiring Laurence of second but the 4-2 was enough to take the league points at 19-17.
 
No matter for John Sampford’s charges for though their 100% record was dented – they were delighted to take possession of the Brian Carter Memorial Cup as 2018 SDL Champions.

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