Poole superstar Darcy Ward took the top honours as fans turned out in their thousands for this very special night to remember Lee Richardson.
They came in their droves – from all over the country, fans piled through the turnstiles to pay their tribute to Rico and help to produce the second largest crowd seen at a UK meeting this year behind the British GP at Cardiff.
The meeting started with a presentation of rider’s bibs by family of the former Lakeside Hammers skipper and the wealth of world talent on display was introduced to the vast crowd, eagerly awaiting what would ultimately turn out to be a fitting celebration of Lee’s life.
Certainly, those who perhaps thought that some of the racing would turn out to be on the exhibitional side were soon rewarded with a series of cracking heats, with every point raced for and as hard fought as you would see in regular league racing – perhaps more so.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated returns on show was the appearance of former Hammer Andreas Jonsson, returning to the track he last graced in such style four years ago. AJ didnt disappoint, with the swashbuckling Swede kicking off his evening with an emphatic win that reminded all that he still remembered the fastest way around the Arena Raceway. His win over three times world champion Jason Crump and 2012 contender Chris Holder set the scene for an evening that would ultimately see him contest the grand final, earning another two point behind Greg Hancock after passing Kauko Nieminen in heat five.
Ward’s first win of the night was a relatively straightforward affair – a tapes to flag victory over Daniel King and Chris Harris. But the Aussie burst into life – and in doing so, ignited the meeting – with a quite brilliant third to first win in heat seven over his fellow countryman Holder and Rory Schlein. The final lap manoeuvre to pass Holder was out of the top drawer and had fans from all clubs graciously show their appreciation.
The undoubted highlight – and contender for race of the season at the raceway – was the clash between Ward and Jonsson in heat eighteen, in which the top two passed and re-passed each other in a stunning display of speedway racing. Just when it looked as though Jonsson had it sewn up back came Ward, diving underneath on the final bend and pushing the Swede wide. Post race Ward stopped to apologise for the final bend move but to be fair that didn’t stop the crowd showing their appreciation for a fantastic race.
Come the Grand Final and the two met again – at the first attempt it was the Hammer’ own silky Swede Peter Karlsson who provided the thrills, sizing up Ward down the homestraight on the second lap and diving underneath him. After much deliberation, the referee sportingly restarted the race with all four riders – and Ward duly obliged, hitting the front to take a much deserved victory on an evening that did so much to honour the memory of Lee Richardson.
1. Greg Hancock 3, 3, 1, 0, 2 = 9 2. Kim Nilsson 1, 0, 1, 3, 1 = 6 3. Scott Nicholls 2, 0, X, 3, 0 = 5 4. Cameron Woodward F, 2, 1, 2, 1 = 6 5. Danny King 2, 0, 2, 1, 0 = 5 6. Chris Harris 1, 1, 3, 1, 3 = 9 7. Darcy Ward 3, 3, 3, 3, 3 = 15 + 3 8. Lewis Bridger 0, 3, 2, 2, 3 = 10 + 2 9. Andreas Jonsson 3, 2, 3, 3, 2 = 13 + 1 10. Jason Crump 2, 2, 2, 0, 1 = 7 11. Chris Holder 1, 2, 0, 1, 3 = 7 12. Robert Mear 0, 0, 0, 1, 1 = 2 13. Kauko Nieminen 1, 1, 0, 0, 2 = 4 14. Peter Karlsson 3, 3, 1, 2, 2 = 11 + 0 15. Rory Schlein 2, 1, 3, X, N = 6 16. Justin Sedgmen 0, 1, 2, 2, 0 = 5
Reserves: 17. Adam Ellis 0 = 0 18. Mark Baldock DNR
Heat 01: Hancock, Nicholls, Nilsson. Woodward (fell). 60.9 Heat 02: Ward, King, Harris, Bridger. 59.6 Heat 03: Jonsson, Crump, Holder, Mear. 58.5 Heat 04: Karlsson, Schlein, Nieminen, Sedgmen. 60.9 Heat 05: Hancock, Jonsson, Nieminen, King. 59.8 Heat 06: Karlsson, Crump, Harris, Nilsson. 59.5 Heat 07: Ward, Holder, Schlein, Nicholls. 59.5 Heat 08: Bridger, Woodward, Sedmen, Mear. 60.8 Heat 09: Harris, Sedgmen, Hancock, Holder. 59.7 Heat 10: Schlein, King, Nilsson, Mear. 60.5 Heat 11: Jonsson, Bridger, Karlsson. Nicholls (fell exc). 59.8 Heat 12: Ward, Crump, Woodward, Nieminen. 60.4 Heat 13: Ward, Karlsson, Mear, Hancock. 60.4 Heat 14: Nilsson, Bridger, Holder, Nieminen. 59.9 Heat 15: Nicholls, Sedgmen, King, Crump. 60.7 Heat 16: Jonsson, Woodward, Harris. Schlein (fell exc). 60.2 Heat 17: Bridger, Hancock, Crump, Ellis. 61.2 Heat 18: Ward, Jonsson, Nilsson, Sedgmen. 59.8 Heat 19: Harris, Nieminen, Mear, Nicholls. 60.8 Heat 20: Holder, Karlsson, Woodward, King. 60.2 GRAND FINAL: Ward, Bridger, Jonsson, Karlsson. 60.3
Picture: Winner Darcy Ward, Runner-Up Lewis Bridger (right) and 3rd placed Andreas Jonsson – Lee Richardson Memorial at the Arena Essex Raceway (Rob Newell/TGSPHOTO)