Witches gain a 14-point first-leg lead

Ipswich Witches 54 Fen Tigers 40IPSWICH Witches will take a 14-point lead to Mildenhall on Sunday after having to fight hard to gain an advantage in the first leg of the Suffolk Cup at Foxhall Stadium last night.

By Mike Bacon

Ipswich Witches 54 Fen Tigers 40

IPSWICH Witches will take a 14-point lead to Mildenhall on Sunday after having to fight hard to gain an advantage in the first leg of the Suffolk Cup at Foxhall Stadium last night.

The Premier League Fen Tigers, already with a couple of meetings under their belts, did themselves much credit with a battling performance to push Ipswich all the way before the experience, in particular of the Witches heat leaders, proved too much.

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It was a case of blowing away the cobwebs for the home team, who had missed out on any form of practice last week and although Mark Loram and Chris Louis had enjoyed a bit of track action already, the rest of the Witches side were out for the first time this season.

Not that it seemed to bother Piotr Protasiewicz, who raced to a comfortable 12-point maximum, having not ridden a bike in anger since last September.

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He was the star of the show for the home side, and another to shine was young Jan Jaros, who acquitted himself well on his Witches debut.

Only Robert Miskowiak struggled for the home side, while Mildenhall owed much to the efforts of Danny King and Shaun Tacey, who both rode well on a track they are familiar with.

But all the Mildenhall side showed up well and although the track was a little slick, understandably so with the recent weather, there was enough entertainment for the decent-sized crowd and this was an excellent workout for both sides.

It was a bitterly cold night and snow began to fall as the tapes went up for the start of heat one.

Jason Lyons popped out from the inside gate to hold off all Louis' challenges to win the first heat well as Jansson passed Jason King on lap three in a drawn first race.

It was another shared heat in the next, but both Mildenhall and Ipswich fans were happy to see Danny King pick up the three points.

Protasiewicz made his way across from the outside gate to provide the Witches with their first heat winner of the new campaign but Mildenhall had started brightly, having had a couple of meetings already under their belt.

Heat four warmed the fans up as Wilkinson led Chris Neath with Loram tracking both men.

But on a track with little grip, Loram's efforts were in vain as Neath almost caught Wilkinson on the line in an exciting finish.

The Witches were just two points ahead and it remained that way as Protasiewicz put in a hard first turn to beat the Mildenhall pairing, although Louis and Jansson doubled the Witches lead in the next.

Jan Jaros tried to muscle his way past Stuart Robson going into the third turn in heat seven, and fell. He got to his feet, but it was another drawn heat, the fifth one in the first seven races.

Wilkinson was looking the sharpest Witch on show in the early stages and he gated to the front in heat eight with Jansson coming round the outside to join him, as Ipswich at last put a bit of daylight between themselves and the Fen Tigers.

Protasiewicz was showing no signs of rustiness and the Grand Prix star made it three wins out of three in heat nine, although for his fellow Pole, Robert Miskowiak, it was a third successive last place.

The Witches were all set for a 5-1 in heat 10 as Louis dived in between Tacey and Robson going into the third turn. But the Witches skipper suffered machine problems and had to retire, although the Witches remained eight points ahead at 34-26.

Jaros showed up well, shooting from the outside to join Loram for a second Witches maximum in heat 11 and Danny King picked up four points with his tactical ride for Mildenhall in the next.

However, Protasiewicz was proving a different class in this field as he completed a 12-point maximum.

The emergence of Louis and Loram together on the track in Witches colours for the first time in 17 years was a pleasing sight for home fans. But Lyons threatened to spoil the party, as he led coming out of turn two before firstly Loram and then Louis passed the Australian to complete another maximum for the home side and their lap of honour drew the biggest cheer of the night.

Miskowiak scored his first point of the night in the penultimate heat 14, but again it was Jaros who impressed with a fine start, this time from gate two, as he took his personal tally to a paid eight points on the night.

Louis pulled a wonderful manoeuvre on Danny King in the final heat, but King had ridden well for Mildenhall and he was their best rider on show.

However it was the Witches who take a 14-point lead to West Row on Sunday in what should be an intriguing contest on the small west Suffolk bowl.

IPSWICH Witches Supporters Club are running a coach to Oxford for their first Elite League meeting of the season at Oxford next Wednesday.

This costs £13 for members (£16 non-members) and £8 for junior members (£10 junior non-members).

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