And then there were three…..
Never say ‘never’ in the Toyota 86 Championship. That’s almost certainly what a resurgent Justin Allen was thinking as he swept over the line to take his second win of the weekend, and the round win, at Pukekohe Park a fortnight ago.
His amazing weekend – and a couple of bad races for the leaders in the series – mean it’s game on as the 2022 Toyota 86 Championship heads to the Taupo International Motorsport Park for the penultimate round. And the championship is shaping up to be another three way shoot out - the perfect sequel to last year’s epic fight for the title.
Reigning champion Rowan Shepherd turned around some troubles in testing at Pukekohe to bag enough points to take the series lead from Simon Evans – who had a solid enough weekend until he was spun out in the final race.
That chaos near the end of the final race was a massive bonus for Shepherd who emerged from what would have been a fifth or sixth to bag third place in the race. That result was enough to edge him 14 point ahead of Evans. Allen meanwhile was the man with the best Pukekohe speed all weekend and his two wins and fine form saw him race to 738 points, just 15 behind Evans and 29 behind Shepherd.
Heading to Taupo they will all fancy their chances in what is now a three-horse race for the title – and the amazing prize package that includes a Supercar test with Triple Eight Race Engineering courtesy of the Tony Quinn Foundation.
Evans is as solid as a rock at Taupo and won at the track last season in his efforts to beat Shepherd to the title. Allen won a race ‘on the track but was penalised for a minor start line infringement. He knows he has even more speed this year too.
As for Shepherd, he’s kept his cool in some challenging moments during his title defence and with his team has worked constantly to get their car into its sweet spot at every track. The true mark of a champion – he has been able to get solid results even when it isn’t the quickest car out there. Evans is much the same.
The battle for wins and points then, should come down to those three but don’t ignore some very fast racers elsewhere in the field who are desperate to make their mark.
Last season Hugo Allan made his debut at the track and showed impressive pace. This year he’s added racecraft to his weaponry and a win looks imminent. Matthew McCutcheon took his first win in style at Pukekohe too and he’ll be fired up to go well again.
Of the rest, Christina Orr-West and Todd Prujean both had good weekends at Pukekohe, the best of their championship campaigns so far. They will both head to Taupo hoping to maintain that momentum and bag some top results.
For speed and bad luck, look no further than Ronan Murphy and Brock Gilchrist. Each has the speed to win if lady luck remains in their camp. Don’t write either off for a win – particularly Gilchrist who took his first victory in the series here last season.
It all kicks off with three practice sessions on Friday, then a normal race weekend format of qualifying and one race on Saturday and two races on Sunday.
2022 TOYOTA 86 CHAMPIONSHIP – POINTS AFTER FOUR ROUNDS
1 Rowan Shepherd 767
2 Simon Evans 753
3 Justin Allen 738
4 Marco Giltrap 667
5 Matthew McCutcheon 616
6 Hugo Allan 600
7 Dion Pitt 558
8 John Penny 525
9 Brock Gilchrist 444
10 Zac Stichbury 435
11 Ronan Murphy 421
12 Clay Osborne 404
13 Christina Orr-West 358
14 Mark Mallard 318
15 Chelsea Herbert 298
16 Fynn Osborne 276
17 Todd Foster 276
18 Todd Prujean 230
19 Sam Cotterill 172
20 Will Morton 164
21 Rianna O'Meara-Hunt 158