Rory Schlein is now beyond reproach as Australia's finest junior speedway rider - that's the verdict after the 19-year-old made it consecutive under 21 national titles at the Undera Park Speedway (Vic) on January 31.

Schlein was a law unto himself at Undera Park, winning his five heats in a canter before an all-the-way triumph in the four-lap final from fellow South Australians Robert Ksiezak and Matthew Wethers. Western Australian Trevor Harding was fourth.

Earlier in the evening, Schlein also broke current world number four Leigh Adams' 11-year-old track record of 57.03 in heat two, lowering the new benchmark to a swift 56.55.

"It was a great feeling to win the title last year, but to do it again - and join some illustrious company - is sensational," said an ebullient Schlien, who also finished seventh in the 2004 Aussie senior title. "Tonight was all about making the starts - if you scored the holeshot from the inside, no-one was going to pass you."

That was the theme of the final, as the imperious Schlien, starting from gate one (red), enjoyed carte blanche on the 280-metre layout, with 17-year-old championship rookie Ksiezak also cruising to a trouble-free run into second place.

After his local demolition, Schlien will now make a play on the Continental-based 2004 world under 21 title, as he seeks to become the fourth Australian champion after Steve Baker (1983), Adams (1992) and Jason Crump (1995). In what is shaping up as a seminal year on the international stage, Schlien will also compete in the UK Elite League in 2004 for Bell Vue, as well as maintaining his Premier League committments with Edinburgh.

At Undera Park, Schlein (15pts), Ksiezak (12) and Wethers (12) all won automatic berths in the final after the roster of 20 heats, but a run-off was required between Harding and dual under 16 Australian champion Mark Jones for the final spot after they both finished on 11pts.

Jones, who had won three of his heats and excluded in another, nailed the start before a small mistake saw Harding slip past - and with it a berth in the final.

That left Jones to finish fifth overall for the second year in succession, from Cameron Woodward and James Holder (both on 8pts). Woodward, after finishing third and second in the past two championships, was one of the pre-event favourites, but a crash - and subsequent exclusion - in heat 18 served as the 19-year-old's death knell.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old wiz kid Troy Batchelor - a triple Australian champion in 2003 -- was a no-show at Undera, and was replaced in the field by Victorian Tyron Proctor, who finished an impressive ninth behind Cory Gathercole.

 

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