Robert Lambert shows he belongs on big stage as Great Britain head for Speedway World Cup race-off
- Credit: Ian Burt
The first bragging rights of an Ashes summer went to Australia as they edged Great Britain to progress straight through to Saturday's World Cup final.
In front of a partisan home crowd, thought to be around the 5,000 mark, the Aussies kept their cool in the face of a determined British onslaught. Every time the men from Down Under looked ready to pull away, a surge of Union Jack flag-waving support – supplemented by some gritty rides from the quartet of Tai Woffinden, Danny King, Chris Harris and Robert Lambert – the hosts just wouldn't go away.
In the end Mark Lemon's Wallabies had just too much class with their final surge, in heat 19, proving decisive. Jason Doyle's sublime blast around the outside of Harris sealed their place in the Vojens showcase alongside Denmark and fellow 'semi-final' winners Sweden.
The Brits will get another chance to go again on Thursday when they enter the last-chance 'race-off' saloon alongside the team that finished third last night, USA, and their counterparts from the weekend in the shape of Poland and Russia.
And Alun Rossiter's boys will fancy their chances of being right in the mix as long as they show similar courage away from King's Lynn in three days' time.
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All eyes were firmly on the troops in the red helmet colours all evening – most firmly prized on home favourite Lambert.
At the tender age of 17 he was making his debut in the week-long team competition, seen as – along with the Grand Prix series – the pinnacle of the sport. To increase the excitement, the Stars' teenage talent was doing so on his home shale.
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If he had any nerves he didn't show them in his maiden outing. Out first, lining up against a field which included world champion Greg Hancock, the Norfolk sensation claimed a third. That point was secured comfortably ahead of Latvian Andzejs Lebedevs, who retired, and not a million miles behind Doyle.
His evening threatened to turn sour in his second ride when, keen to make a perfect start from the outside gate, the Foulsham-based racer touched the tapes and was excluded. The silence around the Adrian Flux Arena was painfully deafening.
If anybody feared the international rookie was going to fall apart they were happily mistaken. Showing all the composure of a seasoned professional, he returned to the pits, digested his sorrow and came back to produce arguably the highlight of the meeting.
Hancock, 45, has been beating the best the planet has to offer long before Helen and Paul Lambert even thought about introducing their only son to the world. So when their pride and joy – a hero to so many others too – was drawn against him against in the ninth, it must have compounded their fears.
On a joker and going for double, the rider known as The Grin displayed all his experience and expertise to make the gate. Thankfully what Lambert is still missing from his starts, he makes up for in pure racing instinct.
The oval held its breath as the young man showed the audacity to wind in the American dream and pass him. If the Saddlebow Road stadium had a roof it would have been taken off. The feelings of pleasure, relief and sheer amazement produced a wall of noise which possibly could have been heard across the Atlantic.
That sound only intensified when the Aussies' Nick Morris arrived out of nowhere at the death to literally barge his way past Britain's great hope and end his chance of a memorable triumph.
Again, Lambert didn't let his head drop and popped in another couple of two-point rides, the last of which saw him come from fourth to second in a display packed with mature overtaking, to see him end with a more than respectable total of seven – from in essence four rides.
His team-mates could also hold their heads high, especially King who looked supremely quick and probably didn't quite get the return he deserved. Woffinden and Harris were, as always, GB's classy standard bearers.
However, Chris Holder, Troy Batchelor, Morris and Doyle had just too much for them. Their gating was far superior and, in the light of a determined home effort, their mistakes were less punished.
The final race was won by Woffinden to allow one more roar of patriotism from the supporters who had come to cheer on Rossiter's Lions. They and their team had done themselves proud. But not for the first time – they last won a medal in 2006 – it was not enough to secure a GB triumph. Unlike last year, Rosco's charges will have to do it the hard way if they want to make the battle for the medals. They should have enough to see off the Americans who saw more than half of their 20 points claimed by Hancock. Latvia were never going to come to the party.
The biggest celebrations should come this morning in the Lambert household though. Their son has arrived on the big stage. He deserves to be there. And against some of the finest competitors on the planet, the 17-year-old showed he belongs in such illustrious company.
Australia 47 points: Chris Holder 11, Nick Morris 12, Troy Batchelor 11, Jason Doyle 13
Great Britain 43: Chris Harris 13, Danny King 10, Tai Woffinden 13, Robert Lamber 7
USA 22: Greg Hanock 12, Gino Manzares 4, Ryan Fisher 5, Max Ruml 1
Latvia 9: Maksims Bogdanovs 3, Andzejs Lebedevs 5, Kasts Puodzuks 1, Jevgenijs Kostigovs 0
– Video provided by the FIM Speedway Grand Prix official YouTube channel.