ANOTHER fine result to add to a long list of excellent away performances this season - and the Buildbase Bees are now very much in the driving seat for a top two finish.
Purfleet back in early June was the venue for arguably their most disappointing display of the season, but this was much more in keeping with their usual form at the Lakeside circuit, and it completed a week where everything has been positive.
The facts of the winning run are as follows: ten consecutive Elite League wins, eleven in all, nine wins on the road this season, and an unbeaten run now stretching back for exactly two months. It makes for impressive reading, and this week's pair of away wins have come against battling sides who would have profited from any Buildbase Bees slip-ups.
And across the performances at both Smallmead and Purfleet, every rider has contributed to the success, even if Martin Smolinski did endure a tough night, the German being the latest Bees rider to suffer from illness. But the biggest difference between this meeting and the previous trip to face the Hammers was the astonishing form of Billy Janniro, who scored just one in June and was paid for 16 on this occasion!
The weather conditions gave the supporters a taste of what to expect when October comes around, as it was windy and cold for late August - but crucially, mainly dry despite plenty of rain being in the area and a shower sweeping across the circuit half an hour before the meeting. This, in fact, led to the unusual situation of the race times getting quicker as the match went on, and it was Bees who made the better start.
The Hammers had hoped to re-introduce Andreas Jonsson to their team, but a three-point return from the Bees asset in Sweden on Tuesday proved that his shoulder is still not right, so they employed the rider replacement facility and brought in their former rider Gary Havelock to replace the similarly injured Joonas Kylmakorpi.
Havelock was straight into the action in Heat 1 as Scott Nicholls stormed clear, with Janniro and Havelock battling hard for second spot - so hard that when their elbows clashed on lap three, Janniro was sent wide and Leigh Lanham briefly came through on the inside only for Janniro to immediately cut back into second place.
For the second away match running, Janniro and Steve Johnston then gained maximum returns from the reserves' race, Lubos Tomicek chasing but unable to pass. It put Bees into an immediate six-point lead, but the majority of that was almost instantly wiped out in Heat 3 when Krzysztof Kasprzak, who was outstanding, gated with Lanham and the pair collected a comfortable 5-1 over Rory Schlein and Smolinski.
Chris Harris made a good start from the outside in Heat 4 but found himself on the deck after contact with Adam Shields, and in the re-run he made the correct decision to cut back as the other riders all went wide. Janniro still managed to establish himself at the front and Shields overhauled Harris for second place midway through the race.
Heat 5 was one of the best races of the night with Kasprzak and Nicholls fighting out a classic duel, Nicholls trying on the outside and generating speed for most of the race before timing his cutback to perfection and storming down the inside going into the last lap to maintain Bees' four-point advantage.
Kasprzak recovered from that by dominating Heat 6, although the Bees duo of Harris and Johnston were content to share the points ahead of Havelock - but Arena did take a couple of points back in a hard-fought Heat 7 which started with Ricky Kling surprisingly moving into the lead. Smolinski tried to drive inside Shields going into turn three and when the Australian went down, Smolinski was excluded, although it was certainly no worse than the first-bend incident which had seen Harris fall in Heat 4. The re-run saw a repeat performance from Kling, who out-trapped Schlein and led for the duration, Schlein holding off Shields for second.
A regular feature of the meeting was Bees always responding to a setback by banging points straight back in, and that was exactly what happened in Heat 8 as Janniro again put himself in pole position from the start. This time Harris had to do it from the back, and he managed to move from fourth to second, past Kling and Havelock, in a spectacular lap or so of racing, before going past his partner on the last lap for an excellent Coventry 5-1.
Back came the Hammers with two 4-2s in the next two races. First Kasprzak took his third win of the night with Lanham third in Heat 9, and then they also took an advantage from a Heat 10 which briefly looked promising for the Bees. Schlein and Smolinski made good starts but Havelock took advantage of a big gap on the inside to hit the front by the back straight, and Shields then got around Smolinski with the Coventry man looking the wrong way coming out of turn two.
Bees' lead was down to two points, but Nicholls and Janniro replied with a 4-2 of their own in Heat 11, Nicholls not making the best of starts but using the inside to good effect early on, and Janniro passing Kling and nearly Shields as well for another important point.
Kasprzak won Heat 12 easily but second and third places for Schlein and Janniro were more than adequate for the Bees, who were hoping to take a heat advantage from Heat 13. However, things didn't go entirely to plan as although Nicholls again moved clear in the early stages, Harris was sandwiched between the Hammers riders going into the first bend and lost too much ground in his first attempt to pass Shields and Havelock.
That gave the Hammers more hope of a dramatic comeback, with four points in it with two heats to go - and they were looking for Lanham to win Heat 14 with Kling needing to score at least a point. The reality, though, was totally different, as Janniro - who had had to change bikes halfway through the meeting - powered into the first bend from the outside and Johnston packed in with him, then defending resolutely from Lanham throughout the race to secure Bees the match-clinching 5-1 and take all the pressure off Heat 15.
The only remaining question concerned Nicholls' maximum, but on this occasion he had to settle for second place as there was no catching Kasprzak after the Pole had made the start. However, the important work on the night had already been done and the Buildbase Bees had taken another massive step on their journey towards the critical final matches of this season's title challenge.
ARENA ESSEX-LAKESIDE 42 COVENTRY 48 Wednesday 22nd August 2007 - Sky Sports Elite League B