Rowan Shepherd opened his winner’s account in the 2021 Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship in dramatic style as the racing got underway with an absolute thriller at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon today.
Shepherd and pole position holder Ryan Wood fought for the lead away from the lights, but contact on the infield sent Wood into a spin and to the back of the field. Shepherd carried on with some minor rear bodywork wounds but couldn’t hold off wily championship leader Simon Evans, who avoided the drama and took the lead at the end of the first lap, with Shepherd and Ronan Murphy in hot pursuit.
The race developed quickly into three distinct battles. The battle for the lead with Evans, Shepherd and Murphy, the battle for fourth, fifth and sixth involving a fast-starting Christina Orr-West, Brock Gilchrist and Justin Allen. Behind them was another huge battle for the minor places, which a recovering Wood was focussed on catching and fighting his way through.
The three leaders fought it out nose to tail in classic Toyota 86 style for lap after lap. Evans made his car as wide as possible in another display of his superb defensive skills in a race car and it wasn’t until the closing laps that Shepherd was confident enough to try for an inside pass into the first turn. He got through but Evans immediately fought back and was into the lead again less than half a lap later. All the while Murphy was in their rear view mirrors, enjoying his best showing in the championship so far and looking for his own way to win the race.
With two laps to go Shepherd found a way by and was able to carve out a lead of a car length or so. Evans wasn’t done and on the last lap had another go at re-taking the lead. This time though, he didn’t quite make it and a delighted Shepherd took the chequered flag, with Evans in second and Murphy a very close third.
“It was a crazy first lap,” said the winner afterwards. “I got a massive hit from behind, then the rear end was bent. It went around right handers mint but around left handers it was horrendous. It’s awesome for the team, it’s been a while. Also, what a credit to Simon Evans. It was yet another great battle that was nice and clean.”
Evans enjoyed the fight too. “That was super cool, a really good race,” he said. “You always want to win, but when you finish second in a race like that, it’s still quite cool. It was a great race with Rowan but I had to be mindful of Ronan as I knew he was right there and ready to capitalise.”
Fourth after another great battle was Gilchrist while Orr-West showed her metal for Dayle ITM Racing with her best performance of the season so far for a fighting fifth. Allen was in the mix in the battle for the duration of the race but was unable to find a way through.
Wood’s recovery was an impressive one as he went from dead last, caught the backmarkers and then proceeded to fight his way back into some worthwhile points with a seventh placed finish.