Championship leader Brock Gilchrist made it three wins from four races in this season’s Toyota 86 Championship battle with victory in the first race of the weekend at Teretonga Park – but it was far from easy.
After a qualifying session where the top seven runners were covered by just two tenths of a second – one of the closest grids in the category’s ten year history – a close race was guaranteed and so it proved.
Gilchrist led from start to finish but never gained more than eight tenths of a second at any stage of the race on second placed Clay Osborne, and that was only when Osborne made a tiny error and was immediately forced into defensive mode as Australian teenager Rylan Gray and the train of five more cars behind him tried to take advantage.
“It’s pretty hard to get away from people here with the huge tow down the long straight so I drove with the widest car I possibly could,” said the delighted Matakana racer afterwards. “Thankfully it paid off and I’m delighted to take another win and maintain the championship effort. It didn’t make too much difference when Clay made a small error late on, the pack just towed up to me within a lap so there was no break from the pressure.”
Osborne has come of age this season and is now a regular front runner, but Gray is proving something of a find. A rookie this year, the 15 year old Australian is doing the TR86 championship in New Zealand and Australia this season. Try as he might – and he did so for most of the race – he couldn’t find a way past Osborne and had to settle for an eventual third.
Fourth after a great drive was top Master Class runner in the race John Penny. He too was in the hunt for a great result and had plenty of speed, but with Highlands race winner Tom Bewley hot on his heels and a flying Justin Allen behind him, it was hard enough work to maintain fourth.
Behind Penny, Allen and William Exton duelled throughout but they too reached a stalemate and finished the 15 laps in sixth and seventh.
The drive of the race, however, came from a fired up Dion Pitt. Fastest in qualifying, a post session check revealed a technical infringement on the car and he was disqualified from the session and forced to start from the back of the grid.
The car is new to the series having been purchased by his team as a former Targa car. The modification was made before the car joined the championship and only came to light came after the random technical inspection. The resultant penalty left Pitt not only starting from the back, but with a lot of work to do in the race.
Dion proved more than up to the task and on a track that is difficult to pass at any time, he made his way past four cars on the first lap and over the course of the 15 lap race worked his way past Christina Orr-West, Tayler Bryant, Fynn Osborne and Ayrton Hodson as he worked his way onto the back of the lead group of seven cars. He ran out of time to get beyond eighth from 17th on the grid, but more than proved he had the pace.
Tayler Bryant was there or thereabouts for the whole race too, not quite on the tail of the leading train of cars, but ahead of the lower midfield battle. Another top ten finish was the reward for the ever-improving Pukekohe racer. Fynn Osborne made it a good race for the family with tenth place.
Sunday morning will see Bryant and Fynn Osborne start from the front row in the reverse top ten format race. Given how close the field is this weekend at Teretonga – both will be focussed on taking their maiden wins in the championship.
2023 Toyota 86 Championship Round Two – Race One results:
Main image: Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand Facebook