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Sunday 26 June
3:00pm

NDL

Mildenhall
Fen Tigers

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Mildenhall Fen Tigers - proudly sponsored by Manchetts Rescue and Recovery – made it into the National Development League Knock Out Cup [KOC] Final after a breath-taking match at Iwade Speedway on Sunday afternoon (1/5/22). It went, in the end, to the wire: with just four points over the two matches separating the Suffolk side from adversaries and hosts of the second leg, Kent Royals going into the 30th. heat of this epic semi-final – Malcolm Vasey & Jason Gardner’s charges eventually emerging victors by an aggregate score of 93 points to 87 (having gone down by six on the day).

And there were two new heroes for the travelling Fen Tigers’ crowd in particular to cheer on as leading protagonists in this closest of battles. In just his second match of his comeback, Jack Kingston turned the clock back just as if he’d not had a seven year hiatus in his racing career by delivering two vital wins in the opening half of Sunday’s match (memorably holding at bay the homesters’ twice NDL Riders’ Champion Ben Morley in heat seven), finishing on paid nine. And better still, 2022 Mildenhall newcomer Josh Warren turned out by some distance the finest and most prolific performance of his fledgling Speedway career with an incredible paid 12 points which also included two race wins.

That the hosts were really up for the battle was evident from the off, with former Fen Tiger, Alfie Bowtell and racing partner Jamie Halder gating on a 5-1 in the opening heat.  The Fen Tigers’ skipper Ryan Kinsley fought back though, passing Halder on lap two but couldn’t catch Bowtell who looked very fast – and indeed that proved to be the case when it was announced he’d set a new track record.

Heat two was Warren’s first moment to shine, looking very assured on a slick racing circuit to take the twice rerun heat, his team mate Luke Muff having been a faller and excluded as a result in the second staging. 

Jack was the Lad in heat three – winning his first away race of his second spell as a Fen Tiger, beating the Royals’ skipper (and another ex-Mildenhall man) Danno Verge,  But things began to enter the slightly twitchy zone after Verge combined with the much-improved Joe Alcock for a 5-1 to the home side in heat five – reducing the overall aggregate lead to just six points; and with 10 heats to go it was very much match on.

Enter the two men of the moment to steady the ship. Kingston’s landmark win over Morley in heat seven (Jack owing a debt of thanks to Alex Spooner who had kept their fellow former Kent Kings’ team mate Morley back in third for just over a lap) was followed immediately by a 5-1 to the visitors courtesy of Warren and Sam Bebee, the latter coming from behind to overtake the Royals’ Sam Woolley. The scores at this half way point on the day was back to parity at 24-24, thus ensuring the initial 12 points advantage remained with the Fen Tigers.

The second stanza of the meeting was destined not to run so smoothly. An inopportune engine failure for Spooner in heat 10 and Kingston’s winning run coming to an equally juddering halt meant a second 5-1 of the afternoon and saw the Royals into a four points lead on the day. Race wins promptly followed from Morley, Verge and the still unbeaten Bowtell – with the latter’s win in heat 13 being backed up into a 4-2 by Morley.  

If it was twitchy earlier, it was now the proverbial squeaky: the gap on aggregate was down to just six points and two heats remained.

Heat 14 had the look about of being absolutely crucial – and the last thing the Fen Tigers needed would be a highly contentious refereeing decision going against them…

All looked good for the visitors with Spooner leading and looking on for the three points which would ensure they’d be no last heat drama and that the tie would be settled in this penultimate race. The ever-trying Alcock was manfully attempting to get past, but over-cooked it on the second bend on the final lap, locking up and falling.  The red lights came on and to the astonishment of the travelling fans and delight of the Royals’ faithful, the referee’s decision was to disqualify Spooner – this awarding the result as a 4-2 to the hosts.

The frustration and disbelief of the visitors’ camp couldn’t be a prevailing emotion for long though – there was a last heat decider to come: with Mildenhall’s Kinsley and Jason Edwards up against unbeaten Bowtell and Morley, who’d to date just that one blot on his record on the day.  A 5-1 to the Royals and it would be all level over the two legs and a Golden Heat to decide who progressed to the KOC Final.

The stakes could scarcely be higher and then suddenly there was further drama – Bowtell wasn’t ready to come out, caught unawares changing a wheel and failing to make the two minute warning.  All of a sudden, the odds turned back the Fen Tigers’ way, with Bowtell having to enter the decisive race off a 15 metres handicap. On a track where passing was difficult all afternoon that kind of handicap against the likes of Edwards and Kinsley was never likely to be one that could be overcome; and it wasn’t, with Jason and Ryan taking a 4-2 which meant the losing score on the day was just six points and eventually fairly comfortable qualification for the Final.

No doubt who had the biggest smile on his face among the triumphant Fen Tigers: Josh Warren who reflected on the best day’s racing of his career,

“I felt really good today – I was calm and confident right from the off, getting that heat two win (only my second ever race win at this level) and kicking on from there.

I had Ritchie Hawkins, the Ipswich Witches Team Manager and former rider in the pits with me and as ever he was a huge help.”

Much had been made pre-meeting about the number of riders in the Mildenhall side with limited or no experience of the notoriously tricky Iwade circuit – yet Warren made light of it.

“I’d actually only ever ridden here once before – at a practice session on the very first day in 2020 after the Lockdown when we were allowed out on track again. I have to say that I’ve progressed so much since those very early days in my career that those practice laps really bore no resemblance to the way I was today. I’m really happy to have reached double figures for the first ever time and also the first time I’ve won two races in one match – the 5-1 I got with Sam when I was drafted into heat eight was absolutely vital to the team.”

Funnily enough, those who know the long running track at Iwade (this year playing host once more to league Speedway) will tell of all the grief they’ve had with rabbits – tunnelling on the centre green; biting holes in the air barrier – but today it was Warren who caused their problems and he was delighted with his day’s work,

“I’m very pleased that all the hard work I’ve put in is paying off. I’d like to thank everyone at Mildenhall Speedway club for their support”.

The next action for the Fen Tigers is back at West Row when they face one of the other new sides in the 2022 NDL, the Plymouth Centurions – that’s on Sunday 15th. May when the campaign to defend the NDL title won by Mildenhall last season begins.

Kent Royals 48

Alfie Bowtell        3 3 3 3 0    = 12
Jamie Halder       1 0 FX 2’    = 3+1
Danno Verge       2 2’ 1’       = 8+2
Joe Alcock           1’ 3 2 3     = 9+1
Ben Morley          3 2 3 1 2   = 11
Chris Watts          2 0 0        = 2
Sam Woolle         1’ 0 1 0 1  = 3+1

Mildenhall Fen Tigers 42

Ryan Kinsley         2 1 2 0 1      = 6
Sam Bebee          0 0 2’ 1’        = 3+2
Jack Kingston       3 3 1 1         = 8
Alex Spooner        0 1 R FX       = 1
Jason Edwards     2 2 3 2 3       = 12
Josh Warren         3 1’ 3 2 2      = 11+1
Luke Muff             FX 1’ 0         = 1+1

Heat Details

1. Bowtell, Kinsley, Halder, Bebee  57.5 (New Track Record) [4-2] {43-53}
2. (rerun twice) Warren, Watts, Woolley, Muff (fell exc.) 61.4 [7-5] {46-56}
3. Kingston, Verge, Alcock, Spooner 59.3 [10-8] {49-59}
4. Morley, Edwards, Muff, Woolley 60.6 [13-11] {52-62}
5. Alcock, Verge, Kinsley, Bebee, 59.3  [18-12] {57-63}
6. Bowtell, Edwards, Warren, Halder 58.8 [21-15] {60-66}
7, Kingston, Morley, Spooner, Watts 60.1 [23-19] {62-70}
8. (rerun) Warren, Bebee, Woolley (fell rem.), Halder (fell exc.) 60.9 [24-24] {63-75}
9. Edwards, Alcock, Verge, Muff 58.9  [27-27] {66-78}
10. Bowtell, Halder, Kingston, Spooner (EF) 58.7 [32-28] {71-79}
11. Morley, Kinsley, Bebee, Watts 60.3 [35-31] {74-82}
12. Verge, Warren, Kingston, Woolley 60.3 [38-34] {77-85}
13. Bowtell, Edwards, Morley, Kinsley 59.0 [42-36]  {81-87}
14. (stpd, not rerun - awarded) Alcock, Warren, Woolley, Spooner (exc) no time [46-38] {85-89}
15. Edwards, Morley, Kinsley, Bowtell (exc 2mins – 15m handicap) 59.1 [48-42] {87-93}