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Christchurch drivers Ryan Yardley and Jack Milligan have handed CareVets team owner Keith Houston the perfect championship result.
Yardley, in his second year with the team after winning the rookie title last season, took two outright wins, eight second places and four thirds in the six-round, 18-race series. The teammates dominated the latter part of the championship, but were never able to draw clear of their rivals for the outright and rookie titles until the final round at Hampton Downs.
“Coming into that final weekend I was clear: we race for the championship, not for individual race wins. There was too much at stake.
When I qualified on the front row for race one there was a little temptation to go out and race for a win, but the title is important to me and to the CareVets team, who have supported Jack and me all the way,” says Yardley.
CareVets Scholarship driver Milligan won the rookie title with a race spare and helped Yardley in his unstoppable run to the 2016-17 Toyota 86 Championship. A wing-man but never less than a racer, Milligan put in a determined drive to fend off all comers in the run to the rookie title. Albany’s Reid Harker pushed Yardley all the way to the final round, but was unable to erode Yardley’s points advantage. Third overall was Michael Scott ahead of Jack Milligan, with Jacob Smith fifth.
In total, 20 drivers raced in the Toyota 86 Championship for a share of the $100,000 prize purse. Ryan Yardley is now contesting the Australian Toyota 86 Racing Series with Brian Hilton Motorsport, driving the car raced last year by Drew Ridge, who finished 13th in the series. Ridge was one of two Australians who also contested the opening round of the New Zealand championship in November 2016.
Part of Yardley’s prize – in addition to the share of the prize fund – was an opportunity to race overseas. Toyota 86 Championship Category Manager Geoff Short says that securing a drive in the Australian championship was the logical pathway.
TWO ON THE REBOUND
In a championship where all 20 cars are produced to a single specification, racing is always close and exciting. For two drivers, the opening round at Pukekohe was more than just a test of racing passion. Jacob Smith of Glendowie almost saw his championship season brought to a premature end at that first round. First, at Pukekohe he went off at the ‘esses’ and slammed backwards into the tyre wall. Then he was clipped by another car that “came out of nowhere” turning into the tight second gear Railway Corner, a crash that put him out for the weekend.
With a comprehensively bent-up car, Smith was wondering if he would be able to continue in the championship.
He reckoned without the dedication of his supporters, in particular Tony Richards and the wider team at the Tony Richards Toyota dealership at Paeroa, without whom he may well have been unable to continue. Tony persuaded their panelbeater to pitch in and an “enormous” effort went into the rebuild, getting Smith back on track for the next round – just a day before the race weekend began.
“It was an amazing job; I didn’t think we’d be back and it shows how much passion there is in the Toyota family and the wider motorsport community,” Smith said afterward.
Meanwhile, Michael Scott of Te Puke found himself in an even worse situation in his Northland Toyota/Te Ara car after the final race of that weekend.
On a charge through the field he made contact with Matt Lockwood’s car on the run up to the ‘mountain’. The two cars touched bumpers at 140 kilometres per hour and Scott was propelled onto the grass and through the gravel trap, the car rolling over as it went.
Pitched up and over the tall safety fences on the far side of the gravel trap, Scott found himself dropped upside-down into the pit lane.
“We looked at the car and thought maybe we could repair it, but it was a huge amount of damage.”
When the car was taken back to Toyota Racing New Zealand for assessment, the verdict was that it could not be repaired in time. Toyota Racing New Zealand, together with category manager Geoff Short, helped to broker a deal that saw Scott pick up the ex-Callum Quin race car that finished second in last year’s championship.
Scott found himself towing the new car to the next round, supported from that point on by International Motorsport, which was also running Connor Adam in the championship.
“I was pretty sore after the roll and I really didn’t see me being at the following round. I was really humbled by the support from other racers and race fans after the event – and of course Toyota Racing New Zealand as championship organisers - they were just fantastic.”