Simon Evans has won the final race and the round at Highlands Motorsport Park to take an early series lead in the 2022 Toyota 86 Championship.
A sizeable hit to the wall with two laps to go for rookie Sam Cotterill unfortunately meant the final race also finished under the Safety Car. At the flag the order was Evans in the Wet & Forget car, with Rowan Shepherd and Justin Allen in the NAPA Autoparts car completing the top three for the race and the weekend.
“I had really good drive off the corners and that helped me defend,” said Evans afterwards. “This is a really positive start to the team’s campaign and it’s great to see Rowan back up front as I really enjoy racing with him. I felt like I was controlling the race well but it’s always tough to win in this championship so I’m very pleased.”
With the final grid of the weekend based on points scored in the first two races, it was Saturday winner Evans on pole position and reigning champion Shepherd alongside him on the front row. Evans made the perfect getaway and pushed Shepherd to second with Sunday morning winner John Penny third and Justin Allen fourth.
Rowan wasted no time in piling the pressure on the Evans as the two edged away from the field but was unable to make any major challenge. “We were stronger in different areas of the lap and I was trying everything I could but didn’t have quite enough,” he said afterwards.
Penny meanwhile was coming under increasing pressure from the group behind and it was Justin Allen who was first to find a way past the Penny Homes car before Matthew McCutcheon got by. As the laps counted down Penny became embroiled in what turned out to be a superb multiple car battle for sixth place featuring Zac Stichbury, Clay Osborne, Dion Pitt, Marco Giltrap, Hugo Allan and Ronan Murphy.
That particular battle was shaping up for a fantastic conclusion and rightly had the attention of everyone watching. It attracted even more attention when the Safety Car came out when Fynn Osborne beached his car in the gravel.
The notable player in the pack at the restart was Ronan Murphy in the Pirtek car. Having retired from second place in the morning race and endured the clock ticking down while his Action Motorsport mechanics – and dad Greg – did a major rebuild on the front of the car which had been damaged by the small fire that had put him out earlier. Young Murph’s team were still checking and completing repairs as he got in the car to go racing.
He made it to the start and proceeded to put in what was arguably his best drive as a Toyota 86 competitor. By the time the Safety Car came out he was up to 13th from 18th on the grid and following the restart moved quickly through the furious battle pack with some impressive moves. A 10th place result was a small reward for a fabulous recovery drive that included the scalps of Hugo Allan and Marco Giltrap.
There’s now just a short break of a few days before the championship reconvenes at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna, for Round Two of the six round championship.