Reigning champion Rowan Shepherd made the most of a great start to lead almost all of the first race of the weekend at the third round of the 2022 Toyota 86 Championship.
The win kept the pressure on championship leader Simon Evans, who finished third in the race behind rookie Hugo Allan.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Shepherd in the Speed Works TR86, however, as first a red flag and then a downpour on one part of the circuit both meant it was nose to tail for the front runners for the whole race. A great first lap was crucial in setting up the win.
“I slowed the car up a little more into the final turn to get a slingshot out of it and I think that was what worked well for me,” he said afterwards.
“We have a great car in the wet so I was pretty comfortable after the restart although it is always difficult to lead these races, especially in unpredictable conditions. It’s great to win though and nice to see a rookie mixing it with us at the front too.”
That rookie – Hugo Allan – was delighted with his first visit to the podium after a great race. “It’s awesome and great to be up front racing two very experienced New Zealand drivers. I’ve struggled to relax that last two rounds but I’ve tried to be more relaxed this weekend and it’s definitely helping.”
At the start Shepherd bided his time around the first lap following pole position holder Simon Evans, before pouncing on the fast final corner of Hampton Downs circuit to slingshot into the lead at the start of the second lap. It was a lead he wasn’t to lose. Evans seemed to pause momentarily in the battle and that allowed Heart of Racing’s Allan to get alongside.
The two ran side-by-side for much of the following lap before Allan got his nose ahead although the attention went away from that battle when Todd Prujean crashed spectacularly at the challenging first turn having put all four wheels onto the grass on the outside. Todd emerged unscathed but left his mechanics plenty to do to see if they could get the car back on track during the weekend.
At the restart is was Shepherd from Allan and Evans with Matthew McCutcheon in fourth. Behind them Justin Allen, Brock Gilchrist, John Penny, Dion Pitt, Marco Giltrap and Ronan Murphy were involved in a great scrap for the lower placings.
McCutcheon quickly moved forward to be part of the lead battle while the rest carried on their own heated battle. Gilchrist was the man on the move in that group – making the most of some major work on the CareVets car between rounds – and he quickly despatched Allen to move to fifth.
At the flag, it was Shepherd from Allan, Evans, a charging McCutcheon, Gilchrist, Allen, John Penny, Marco Giltrap, Dion Pitt and rounding out the top ten – Zac Stichbury. Christina Orr-West had a blinder in the Dayle ITM car having started dead last after a ride height infringement in qualifying. A fine drive saw her move through the field to 11th at the flag.