Eagles cruise to victory over The Gladiators – Meeting Report

Eastbourne cruised to victory over Plymouth at Arlington Stadium on Saturday (July 31) after turning up the gas after the half-way stage.

The pivotal moment came in heat 11 as the Devon side deployed former Eagle Bjarne Pedersen as a tactical substitute alongside guest No 1, Michael Palm Toft, who was unbeaten at that stage.

With the scores standing at 34-26 to the HG Aerospace Eagles, a 5-1 to the visitors would have signalled ‘game on’.

Home captain Lewi Kerr was having none of it as he raced into lead and kept the two visitors behind him by riding a fast line inches from the fence.

That was ‘game over’ for Plymouth.

In the following race Hailsham’s finest teamed up for a 5-1 with Edward Kennett leading the way from Nathan Ablitt, who was making his home debut at Championship level.

Tom Brennan, who left immediately after the meeting to ride for Great Britain in Germany the following day, then turned the screw with a spectacular win from the back in heat 14, followed by a stunning ride to win heat 15 – and with teammate Richard Lawson in tow it was a maximum heat win for the Eagles, with the final score resting at Eastbourne 54, Plymouth 36.

The start of the meeting was delayed by nearly 45 minutes because of problems with the starting gate caused by a blown electricity transformer.

And there was a further delay when the tractor used to grade the track bashed the safety fence.

Eastbourne co-promoter Trevor Geer, said the starting gate had been tested prior to the meeting and had worked perfectly.

“The problem was down to a burnt out transformer. It was nobody’s fault. They were working perfectly this afternoon.

“If we had known that and it couldn’t be fixed, we would have gone on the green light at 7.30pm.

“We had so much going wrong with the tapes not working and having to start off the green light and then the fence problem. We got through in the end.

“All the boys rode brilliantly tonight, especially Nathan Ablitt who got stuck in and showed us what he can do.

“You could see his confidence grow as the meeting went on. It was brilliant to watch.

“Tom Brennan surprised me.

“He looked as if he had gone up to another level tonight. He was sitting on the back of the bike and fighting it like you see on the TV with Bartosz Zmarzlik [World Champion] in Grand Prix racing.

“Tom has gone to another level. It was brilliant.

“He was going through gaps which were almost non-existent between the Plymouth riders and the fence.”


Eastbourne 54: Tom Brennan 13, Richard Lawson 12+2, Lewis Kerr 9, Kyle Newman 6+2, Edward Kennett 6+2, Nathan Ablitt 5+1, Jake Knight 3.

Plymouth: 36: Bjarne Pedersen 10, Michael Palm Toft 9, Zane Keleher 6+1, Alfie Bowtell 6, Zach Cook 3, Connor Coles 1+1, Dillon Ruml 1.

Eastbourne are next in action on Tuesday at Kent, who have been strengthened by the signing of Troy Batchelor.

Here’s how Kevin Ling saw the meeting unfold:

Eastbourne HG Aerospace Eagles overcame a catalogue of adversity off track to further their Play Off push with a wholly entertaining 54-36 victory against the Plymouth Gladiators at Arlington stadium on Saturday night.

The match was delayed 45minutes as an electrical transformer reportedly burnt out causing disruption with the starting gate mechanism but when it was agreed that the green light should signify race starts all riders of both teams set to and produced an exciting and competitive contest on a superbly prepared racing surface.

In spite of their lowly league position the Gladiators, augmented by the inclusion of guest Michael Palm Toft (replacing Jason Crump) posed stern resistance especially in the early part.

The Sussex side opened up a 6-point lead (12-6) by the end of heat three but aided by wins, two from Palm Toft and a further success from former Eagle Bjarne Pedersen the visitors reduced the deficit to just two on conclusion of the fifth.

From that point the Eagles did start to assert their home dominance and pulled away. Both Tom Brennan and Richard Lawson demonstrated particular fleet of foot throughout the evening but in truth it proved a sterling all round team performance that was responsible for outgunning the Gladiators and home debutant Nathan Ablitt drew plaudits not least for his final outing as he came from the back to share a maximum 5-1 with Edward Kennett in heat twelve.

Palm Toft sent out a message to the hosts from the off, that is of course once the match finally got underway. The Dane jetted from the start to lead both Kyle Newman and Lawson and that’s how it stayed with Palm Toft, performing the role that might have been expected of Jason Crump, being the first to the chequered flag to anchor the opening share of the spoils (heat one winning time 57.2).

The Eagles looked set to secure maximum points in heat two, Jake Knight tearing away for a comfortable win with Ablitt in hot pursuit. Another former Eagle Alfie Bowtell maintained pressure on the latter coming close on the third bend of both lap one and lap three. Finally his industry pain off as Ablitt went hard into the first and second bend of the final circuit allowing Bowtell a way through to limit the damage to a 4-2 for the home side. Elsewhere Connor Coles suffered a fall on the third bend of lap one but he remounted to finish (heat two winning time 59.4).

Plymouth looked set to hit back in the next as Zane Keleher and Zach Cook hit the first bend in one and two. Brennan appeared super-fast however sweeping past them out of the second bend. Kennett followed his team mate past Cook but Keleher proved a tougher nut to crack. The Eagle didn’t give up however and a fine inside pass on the second bend of lap two realised the home 5-1 and an overall 12-6 advantage (heat three winning time 58.3).

Heat four was called back to orders with Bowtell receiving a warning to remain stationary at the start. At the second time of asking Pedersen and Lewi Kerr left the start side by side but the visiting Dane demonstrated the superior dash into the first turn and pulled away for the win.

With Bowtell again getting the better of Ablitt behind them, the 4-2 went the way of the Gladiators, the margin closing to 4-points 14-10 (heat four winning time 58.1).

Race five proved a cracker but again the race went the way of the visitors by that same 4-2 scoreline. Eastbourne’s Brennan and Kennett gated in the lead but Palm Toft showed his class by cutting between the two Eagles on the run down the back straight and bursting into a lead that he would never relinquish. Kennett would then run wide on bends three and four which allowed Ruml to snatch third place. The Eagle continued to chase but got caught up on the next bend and lost ground. With that the visitors drew closer to their hosts, the score line narrowing to 16-14 (heat five winning time 58.3).

Lawson and Newman were on hand to put things right in the next however, a gate to flag effort that saw Pedersen and Bowtell pegged in the minor places, the resultant 5-1 restoring the 6-point disparity to 21-15 in favour of the Sussex side (heat six winning time 58.4).

Kerr also enjoyed a classy win in heat seven, a stunning start to leave Cook and Keleher chasing shadows. Knight would follow the field home but the half dozen difference, now 24-18 would remain in place (heat seven winning time 57.7).

Bowtell posted a further win for the visitors to keep them within sight of their hosts. He led both Newman and Ablitt in impressive style but the race wasn’t destined to run the full course as Ruml suffered a fall towards the tail end of lap three necessitating a stoppage. Thankfully the American was quickly up and okay, the race being duly awarded (heat eight winning time No time).

Pedersen secured his second victory of proceedings in race nine but Brennan and Kennett tucked in behind him well ahead of Coles (replacing Bowtell) to safeguard the home lead (heat nine winning time 58.0).

As the match moved towards the final third the Eagles began to turn up the heat. Lawson was an all the way winner from Keleher while Newman got the better of Cook for the 4-2. With that the scores stood at 34-26 with five races left on the card (heat ten winning time 58.7).

Plymouth chose that moment to throw everything at the problem by introducing Pedersen, with two wins to his credit, as a tactical substitute to ride alongside the as yet unbeaten Palm Toft.

Kerr would have none of it however and rode a superb Captain’s race to see off the challenge posed by each of his revered opponents. In such eminent company there was little given to Knight at the rear of the field but needless to say he never gave up the chase (heat eleven winning time 58.1).

That moment was certainly celebrated by the Arlington faithful but the next race all but brought the house down as Ablitt capped a wholly impressive home debut by coming from the back to join Kennett for the 5-1 ahead of Cook and Bowtell that all but secured both points for the Sussex men. The scores that stood at 42-30 and with the difference at 12-points the Gladiators knew that they needed maximum points from the closing three races if they were to restore parity with their hosts (heat twelve winning time 59.4).

It wasn’t to be of course, Lawson made sure of that by romping to a third win of the night in heat thirteen. He led throughout with Kerr momentarily sharing the lead ahead of dynamic Danish duo Palm Toft and Pedersen. Though Palm Toft would soon get the better of the Eagles Captain down the back straight of lap one Pedersen could not find a way through and with that the 4-2 was sufficient to see Eastbourne home, the scores now standing at 46-32 (heat thirteen winning time 58.6).

It took three restarts in the penultimate race for Brennan to demonstrate his undoubted class one more. With Knight previously excluded for causing a race stoppage the young Eagle cut a lone figure alongside of Keleher and Coles.

Brennan received something of a shunt on the opening bend but he composed himself sufficient to soar past Coles on the run down the back straight. He then set his sights on Keleher and following a furious two lap chase a superb cut back on the second bend of lap three saw Brennan finally hit the front from which he proceeded to take the win (heat fourteen winning time 59.2).

With the score now standing at 49-35 the match was long since in the bag but Brennan and Lawson combined to underline the win in style with Eastbourne’s fourth 5-1 of the night. This one saw Pedersen and Palm Toft left trailing and the home support cheered their heroes with every turn of the wheel.

The final score rested at 54-36 which proved particularly popular and in spite of the problems and delays that beset the running of the meeting, much of the post-match feedback suggested that it had been one of the best of the season (heat fifteen winning time 58.4).

Image Credit: Mike Hinves