RECORD run over - but no damage done at the East of England Showground as the Buildbase Bees came through the first of two pre play-off meetings unscathed and once again sent out a clear indication of their current form.
True, they were reeled back in having established a 21-9 lead after a blistering start, but on how many other occasions this season will their second and third heat leaders be reduced to a combined total of six points as Chris Harris, in particular, suffered a catalogue of problems.
The ideal result, of course, would have been a Coventry 4-2 in the last-heat decider rather than one to the Panthers, but in the big scheme of things over the next few weeks, there will be little sleep lost over the ending of a winning run which stretched to a massive 16 Elite League matches.
In the early stages, the Bees adapted far better to a tricky Showground circuit which required extensive grading on several occasions, as well as an unscheduled break after Heat 2, and that seemed to be more of a hindrance to the home side who have presumably been accustomed to something totally different this season. Bees took full advantage and left their hosts playing a serious game of catch-up.
Not that the opening races were entirely trouble-free as skipper Scott Nicholls tangled up with Panthers guest Lee Complin going into the first bend of Heat 1 and fortunately managed to fall clear of his machine, whose front wheel had clearly seen better days after the incident. The re-run saw Steve Johnston lay down his intentions with a terrific start to out-gate Hans Andersen, the Panthers skipper going round him into turn three for a shared race.
As so often of late, the Bees took maximum points in Heat 2 although it was Christian Hefenbrock who made the start - but Johnston and Billy Janniro both went around the German rider on the difficult third and fourth bends as Piotr Swiderski fell behind them - whilst Heat 3 was all one-way traffic from Martin Smolinski and Harris, with a straightforward 5-1 over Daniel King and Complin.
Johnston again trapped in Heat 4, this time from the outside, and made straight for the dirt-line to block off Kenneth Bjerre, with Rory Schlein holding on for third place, and Nicholls then dominated Heat 5 in a second consecutive Coventry 4-2 with Janniro third, split by Bjerre.
With the gap at 12 points it was somewhat surprising that the Panthers did not elect to use a tactical ride in Heat 6, especially with Andersen in the race, and the race in fact produced a maximum advantage for the home side. Andersen and Schlein traded elbows into the first bend, putting the Dane clear in the lead, but it still looked like being a 3-3 until an inspired Complin wound up the outside line and went around first Janniro and then Schlein in a brilliant ride to give the home side a 5-1 that could so easily have been an 8-1!
Harris started to hit trouble in Heat 7 when he hardly moved off the start-line, Smolinski preventing another 5-1 by splitting Bjerre and Hefenbrock, and Johnston's inspired run continued as he took control of Heat 8 as Schlein was left with nowhere to go in a hotly-contested first bend. Fortunately for Bees, the all-action Complin was trapped behind team-mate Swiderski for two laps and had to pull off a genuine overtake of his partner to set off after Johnston, but he did not have time to catch up. Even so, the performance of Complin showed exactly why he has provided so much action in the Premier League this season, and the Stoke man was clearly the most entertaining rider on the night.
Schlein and Andersen clashed again at the start of Heat 9, this time with Schlein on the inside of the pair, and with both riders out of shape but referee Jim Lawrence correctly allowing the race to continue, King and Janniro raced well clear leaving a furious battle to develop for third place. Andersen drove inside Schlein on lap three only for Schlein to hit back coming off turn four, but Andersen made it back around the outside on the last lap to take the third place, and words and gestures were exchanged after the race!
Another 4-2 followed in Heat 10 as Harris rolled into the tapes and then barely got going in his chase from the 15 metre handicap, and the scores were levelled in Heat 11 when it was Smolinski's turn to hit trouble as he broke down early in the race, Bjerre going away from Nicholls in the early stages and Hefenbrock picking up another gift point.
In Heat 12, Harris appeared to have finally cured his gremlins as he produced a typical blast around King at the end of lap one, only for King to repay the compliment next time round with Harris seeming to then be at only around three-quarter power for the rest of the race, and off the last bend Janniro had to throttle right back to ensure that he and Harris both got home ahead of Swiderski.
Heat 13 produced more first bend action with Andersen forcing Nicholls out, which initially looked like it would give Bjerre the chance to set up a 5-1. But it went wrong for the Panthers when Andersen went too wide out of turn two and Nicholls came through between them, and the Bees skipper was never seriously threatened by the home duo from there on in.
The penultimate race started well for the Bees with the in-form Johnston and Smolinski both riding brave first and second bends to establish a 5-1 situation - but Swiderski showed a turn of speed that had been lacking to that stage by rounding Smolinski off turn four, King coming through on the inside, and as Smolinski tried to respond he took a heavy trip into the fence on turn two. After a delay, it appeared that it was the airbags that had taken more damage than the rider as Smolinski was able to walk back, and Johnston's work for the night was done as referee Lawrence deemed that his lead was virtually unassailable, and awarded a 3-3 despite the stoppage having come before the end of the second lap.
Heat 15 brought Andersen, Bjerre and Nicholls to the tapes again, this time joined by Harris, and once more it was Andersen who hit the first bend in front. Nicholls, though, appeared very fast and seemed to have the run on his opposing skipper coming out of the fourth bend, only to find himself chopped off in no uncertain terms - and the Bees man sensibly put Monday's semi-final ahead of a closer inspection of the fence. Bjerre took third ahead of Harris, and that wrapped up a narrow win for the Panthers - the only time all evening that they had led.
PETERBOROUGH 46 COVENTRY 44 Wednesday 12th September 2007 - Sky Sports Elite League B
PETERBORO PANTHERS Hans Andersen 3 3 1 3 2 3 = 15 Lee Complin 0 0 2* 2 1 = 5=1 Niels-Kristian Iversen R/R Daniel King 1 0 3 3 1* = 8+1 Kenneth Bjerre 2 2 3 3 1* 1 = 12+1 Christian Hefenbrock 1 1 1 = 3 Piotr Swiderski F 0 1* 0 2 = 3+1
BUILDBASE BEES Scott Nicholls 2 3 2 3 2 = 12 Olly Allen r/r Chris Harris 2* R R 2 0 = 4+1 Martin Smolinski 3 2 2 R X = 7 Rory Schlein 1 1 0 0 = 2 Billy Janniro 2* 1 0 2 1* = 6+2 Steve Johnston 1* 3 3 3 0 3 = 13+1