With two outright wins at Pukekohe and the early points lead, returning champion Tom Alexander is shaping as the danger man in the 2017-2018 Toyota 86 Championship.
When the second round gets under way at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park this weekend, followers of the Championship will learn whether the Bombay-based racer can fight off the challenge of Christchurch’s Jack Milligan.
A further risk for Alexander is that the pair may be distracted by their own duel and let third-placed Connor Adam slip through to lead.
In front of a massive crowd at the ITM Super Sprints in November, 2015 Champion Alexander and 2016-2017 rookie of the year Milligan carved up the top placings between them, closely pursued by Connor Adam through three punishing races.
Alexander is driving the TR 86 owned by motor racing legend Kenny Smith, who has also okayed the use of his racing number, 11.
Fresh from an outstanding one-off run at Bathurst in the Australian Toyota 86 Series, Christchurch’s Jack Milligan is a force to be reckoned with as the New Zealand Championship develops.
That Bathurst outing – in a grid of 34 cars – honed his race-craft and pace and delivered him an exceptional podium finish on his first outing in Australia. Now as lead driver for the Hamilton-based CareVets team, Milligan is going all-out for the New Zealand title.
Driving in the two-car CareVets racing team, he won the first race of the 2017-2018 New Zealand Championship with a gritty drive past pole man Connor Adam, who held on to second place ahead of Alexander.
The rest of the weekend belonged to Alexander, who has come back to the 86 Championship, drawn by its close competition after a foray into V8 racing
He won the second race in the wet and then backed that with victory in the final race of the weekend. Alexander arrives at round two 35 points clear of Milligan and another 12 points ahead of Adam. He knows a six round Championship cannot be won at the first or second rounds when each of this weekend’s three races offers the winner 75 points.
Alexander says the key is consistency – to keep banking podium finishes, keep the car in one piece and stay out of trouble.
Connor Adam and his International Motorsport team-mate Michael Scott arrive at Taupo determined to take the fight to the CareVets team and close the gap to Alexander.
A second, a ninth and a gripping drive through the field to third in the final race at Pukekohe were Adam’s path to third in the Championship after the first round. Now he must capitalise on that strong early showing.
Michael Scott found himself elbowed aside at Pukekohe. It isn’t often this talented Auckland racer is missing from the podium but his best at the first round was a fourth placing and he is eighth on the points table.
Jordan Baldwin is top rookie after one round with a best finish of third in race two at Pukekohe and having set two fastest times. Adapting fast to the handling, braking and performance of the purpose-built TR 86 race car, Baldwin is one to watch at Taupo.
Now in his second Championship year, Christchurch’s Jaden Ransley has been mentored by respected Christchurch driver coach Andy Neale. At this year’s opening round Ransley built on the form he displayed last year, when he jumped straight from karting to the 86 Championship at the age of 14. Before making his debut in the Toyota 86 Championship, he had never driven a manual-shift car and as he goes into this year’s six-round series he is 15, still too young to hold a road license.
Aucklander Ben MacDonald had a strong opening round and is fifth on points going into round two this weekend.
Pukekohe was a bruising start in the championship for young Sam Wright in the Richards Team Motorsport car – the intensity of the fight for points saw him tap the wall in the first race, damaging the car’s rear suspension, but he was able to get back on track to stay in the hunt.
Bramwell King is the second driver in the CareVets racing team, and nabbed a cheeky pole position at Pukekohe. He showed strong pace at Pukekohe and can be expected to go well on Taupo’s big sweeping corners and fast straights.
Martin Short joins the Championship for this round, having raced parts of the previous two championships.
There are three races for the Toyota 86 Championship this weekend. The first is on Saturday at 5:09 pm over eight laps. Then on Sunday there is one race at 11:11 am over 8 laps with a partial reverse grid set by marble draw followed by the final race at 3:44 pm over 12 laps.