Brock Gilchrist may be in his fifth season of the Toyota 86 Championship, but this season has already seen the Matakana racer shift up another gear.
A late entry into the championship this season with support from series tyre supplier Nexen, Gilchrist rewarded them and his supporters with a fantastic weekend in Cromwell.
Two accomplished wins, a great drive in the reverse top ten race and some great driving in attack and defence modes marked him as the standout driver at round one and he starts this weekend as clear favourite.
The Toyota 86 Championship has always been a competitive one and its tenth anniversary battle looks set to be another fantastic one with several drivers keen and able to take the fight to Gilchrist this weekend.
Two of the field – one of the most experienced and one of the most inexperienced – could be principal amongst his challengers.
Justin Allen is a veteran of this championship and like a fine wine just gets better and better with age. Friday testing at Cromwell indicated he might dominate the weekend, but he couldn’t quite match that dominance when it mattered. He’ll press the reset button this weekend and will be near the top of the time sheets, but must make it stick in qualifying and not compromise his races, where he is always impressive.
The find of the weekend in Cromwell was undoubtedly Tom Bewley. A rookie with considerable karting expertise, he did a very fine job in taking his first win over the weekend and being competitive throughout. It’s quite possible that if his improvement rate continues he could prove difficult to beat – for everyone.
Christina Orr-West was another to show eye-catching pace during the first weekend. After a slow start to the weekend she was in full fighting mode pretty quickly and on Sunday fought off Allen in one of the best battles in the championship for quite a while – a battle she ultimately won.
Dion Pitt and Clay Osborne were another two who showed race winning pace and either could spring a surprise or two this weekend. John Penny will be aiming for a more successful weekend with better luck, while William Exton, Tayler Bryant, Fynn Osborne and Rylan Gray will all look to build on the momentum they showed during the first weekend.
The field will include both Saxon Sheehan and Harry Townshend, who had a nasty accident on the first corner of last weekend’s Race One. Both have secured other vehicles and will be looking to press restart on their championship campaigns.
2023 Toyota 86 Championship Points after 1 of 6 rounds:
2023 Toyota 86 Championship Schedule:
|1||Highlands Motorsport Park||January 13 – 15|
|2||Teretonga Park Raceway||January 20 – 22|
|3||Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park||February 3 – 5|
|4||Taupo International Motorsport Park||March 17 – 19|
|5||Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon||April 14 – 16|
|6||Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park||May 5 – 7|
Main image: Bruce Jenkins | Words: Supplied