Tom Alexander of Bombay is positioning himself to wrest New Zealand’s leading one-make series title away from Wellingtonian Jamie McNee.
This weekend’s Toyota Festival at Hampton Downs in the northern Waikato hosts the 2015 Toyota Finance 86 Championship final for the first time. Consistent form through recent rounds in the South Island and at Manfeild put Alexander (20) in the championship lead. He can win the title provided he maintains his recent race-winning form and manages to keep McNee behind him.
At the most recent round of the championship at Manfeild, Alexander came away with two poles, two second places, a new lap record and a race win to extend his championship points lead. He is 81 points ahead of McNee and every win in this weekend’s final round is worth 75. Also in with a chance is Ash Blewett, 108 points behind Alexander.
The racing takes place within the Toyota Festival, an owners’ and enthusiasts’ event that spans skid pan driving, drifting, track sessions and a show and shine of all manner of Toyota vehicles.
The Lexus LF-A supercar will also be on hand and will turn laps during the weekend.
The 2014-2015 Toyota Finance 86 Championship is open to teams and drivers using the New Zealand-built TR 86 race cars and will be contested over six rounds. It has its own TV package (screening on the Friday after each event) and features races at V8 Supertourer and Toyota Racing Series events on circuits from Invercargill to Auckland. The championship has been contested by ten New Zealand drivers and two Australians: Luis Leeds and Bruce Thomlinson.
With three races this weekend, the championship will be decided between the top three racers: Alexander, McNee and Blewett, all of them series regulars who contested the inaugural championship.
Ashley Blewett, Tom Alexander, Nick Cassidy and Marcus Armstrong are tied for highest number of race wins (all with three wins); the same four drivers are tied for the most pole positions (all have two poles); Alexander has the most podium finishes (12) and Callum Quin has the most podiums without a race win. With strong form at Manfeild, Quin can look forward to competitive form at Hampton Downs and aim to add a win to his championship year.
For Jamie McNee to win back to back titles he needs to win all three races. Alexander and Blewett must finish off the podium in each race to drop out of contention.
Tough road to the title
Recent rounds in the South Island saw Alexander on the podium in every race, building a dominant points position against fierce opposition from Matt Gibson, Marcus Armstrong, Ash Blewett and Jamie McNee.
At Ruapuna, sharing the programme with the opening round of the Toyota Racing Series, Alexander won the first race ahead of Marcus Armstrong and Jamie McNee. Australian Luis Leeds, crossing the Tasman for a first try-out and to familiarise himself with New Zealand tracks, was fifth overall. Armstrong set the fastest lap, a 1:36.654. It was the new lap record for the category at Ruapuna. In the second race, Ash Blewett took the win ahead of Armstrong and Alexander, resetting the lap record in the process: 1:35.846. Luis Leeds was seventh.
Armstrong then won the third race ahead of Alexander and McNee, the latter baking valuable points to keep his title defence alive. Leeds was seventh again, Armstrong set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:36.865, meaning Blewett’s lap stands as the new record.
A week later at Teretonga the TR86 race cars shared the programme with TRS once more. Marcus Armstrong was absent, heading to Italy for a karting event. Multiple TRS champion and Grand Prix winner Nick Cassidy joined the championship, driving the car vacated by Armstrong.
Cassidy won the first race after a torrid battle with team-mate Alexander, with Matt Gibson third. Alexander took fastest lap, a 1:07.452, to set the category lap record.
In the second race, Alexander came through to win after Cassidy had a slow start. McNee was second overall, adding heat to the championship tussle. Nick Cassidy set the race fastest lap and new lap record, a 1:07.148.
In the third race, Alexander once more took the win, this time after going door-mirror to door-mirror with Cassidy into the fast turn one at Teretonga lap after lap. Cassidy was second, Ash Blewett third. Fastest lap fell to Cassidy, a 1:07.329 but his race two lap stands as the new category lap record for the track.
At the penultimate round, where the championship once more shared the programme with TRS, Cassidy won the first race ahead of Alexander with Aucklander Callum Quin third. Fastest lap also went to Cassidy, a 1:17.935.
In the second race the podium was repeated, Cassidy winning again and Alexander taking fastest lap, setting a new lap record with a 1:17.279.
The final race of the weekend handed Alexander a valuable win, Cassidy second and Blewett third. McNee was fifth, giving away much-needed points toward his title defence. Cassidy took fastest lap with a1:17.975 meaning Alexander’s lap record will stand.
Saturday 28 February 2015 - testing/qualifying/racing
9.00 am Toyota Finance 86 Championship official practice, 15 minutes
10.30 am Toyota Finance 86 Championship official practice, 15minutes
11.50 am Toyota Finance 86 Championship qualifying, 20 minute session
2.00 pm Toyota Finance 86 Championship race 1 - 10laps
Sunday 01 March 2015 - Testing/Racing
8.30 am Toyota Finance 86 Championship official practice, 15 minutes
10.15 am Toyota Finance 86 Championship race 2 - 10 laps
1.30 pm Toyota Finance 86 Championship race 3 - 15 laps
Toyota Finance 86 Championship points going into the final round
|1||11||Tom Alexander||Ken Smith Motor Racing||975|
|2||69||Jamie McNee||ETEC Motorsport||894|
|3||66||Ash Blewett||West City Motorsport||867|
|4||91||Callum Quin||Quin Motorsport||729|
|5||88||Matt Gibson||Matt Gibson Motorsport||714|
|6||8||Neil Allport||Neil Allport Motorsports||596|
|7||9||Marcus Armstrong ( R )||Neale Motorsport||482|
|8||002||Rick Armstrong||Neale Motorsport||261|
|9||15||Bruce Thomlinson||West City Motorsport||249|
|10||58||Cory Holmes ( R )||Richards Team Motorsport||234|
|11||9||Nick Cassidy||Neale Motorsport||202|
|12||96||Luis Leeds ( R )||ETEC Motorsport||130|