Home rider Rory Schlein almost pulled off a fairytale comeback, but was denied on the line by Ben Fund Bonanza winner Craig Cook as Lynn staged the 2016 speedway season opener on Saturday.
Belle Vue’s Cook held off King’s Lynn Stars talisman Schlein, in his first outing after missing nearly 10 months with a serious back injury, in the Grand Final of this fund-raiser for stricken riders.
Cook, who won the 2014 Bonanza at Leicester, became the first to pick up two Ben Fund titles at the Adrian Flux Arena’s first staging of the event. He soon looked like the man to beat as he was the only rider to remain undefeated on the night.
Sixteen riders raced each other over 20 heats. By finishing in the top two, Schlein and Cook automatically qualified for the Grand Final.
The next four raced off in the semi-final for the other two Grand Final spots, with the winner of the Grand Final declared champion. Schlein chased front-runner Cook and almost caught up the Cumbrian on the finish line.
Schlein said: “I couldn’t ask for any more. It would have been nice to win it, but I’m not too greedy.
“Where we were 10 months ago, to just be here is an achievement in itself, yes, so I’m very pleased.”
Norfolk’s own Robert Lambert also managed to get into the final by finishing second in the semi-final behind Bjarne Pedersen. Another Stars rider Mads Korneliussen, the 2013 title winner at Berwick, failed to make the semi-final.
Meeting reserve Ryan Douglas replaced former Lynn rider Lewis Kerr, who was unwell. New reserve and new Star Kai Huckenbeck showed his potential in the final qualifying heat by pushing Cook all the way.
Two riders had to withdraw from the meeting: ex-Star Simon Stead with concussion after Josh Bates caused him to come off in Heat 2, while Krzysztof Kasprzak fell on the opening lap of Heat 9 and was due to go to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone.
Race of the night came in Heat 12 with the top three swapping places just headed by World no. 5 Doyle from Lambert and Steve Worrall.
Races involving the British Young Lions opened the evening. Winning the opening heat was Kyle Bickley.
An estimated 1,500 fans supported the event, which raises money for injured riders.
Points after 20 qualifying heats: B.Barker 2, R.Lambert 8, R.Worrall 4, N.Klindt 8, C.Cook 12, M.Korneliussen 4, S.Stead (withdrawn) 2, K.Kasprzak (withdrawn) 2, D.King 3, E.Grondal 2, C.Harris 8, U.Ostergaard 7, S.Worrall 7, B.Pedersen 8, R.Douglas 5, J.Doyle 8, J.Bates 6, K.Doolan 2, R.Schlein 10, J.Auty 6. Reserves: K.Huckenbeck 4, K.Woryna 2.
Semi-Final: Pedersen, Lambert, Harris, Klindt, 64.25 seconds. Grand Final: Cook, Schlein, Pedersen, Lambert, 64.70. Fastest time: Cook in Heat 5, 60.86.