Rylan Gray secured the 2023 Toyota 86 Championship Rookie title and a seat in a GR Supra GT4 EVO at the Nürburgring in style with a great win in the second race of the big finale at Hampton Downs this morning.
A thrilling reverse top-ten race saw Gray cross the line ahead of Dion Pitt and Hugo Allan. Championship leader Brock Gilchrist has one hand on the overall championship trophy after finishing one place ahead of a flying Clay Osborne to leave his championship lead at 68 points with just one race to go.
It was a miserable one for Saturday winner Justin Allen though, the innocent victim in contact leaving him stranded in the sand and brought out the Safety Car for a couple of laps. Another innocent victim was Saturday’s third-placed finisher Hunter Robb who like Allen was left in recovery mode for the remainder of the race.
Gray’s first win in the championship was a special one for the young Aussie, however, and all the attention was rightly on him after the race as he celebrated. “Yes it was good right from the word go, we got a great start and led from there,” he said.
“It’s great to get a race win to seal it all and I am pretty excited about what is to come. It’s been close racing all season and very competitive.”
The early battle at the front was a fantastic one mirrored by the fight amongst the faster cars starting lower down in the reverse grid. The race developed into two distinct battles for the top four places and the lower places in the top ten. The intrigue throughout was in the progress of both Gilchrist and Osborne further back and both showed why they have become the two leading lights in the championship this season.
From the lights, both were clearly in the mood to move up the order as quickly as they could – Gilchrist from sixth on the grid and Osborne from ninth.
Gilchrist made good early progress to latch on to the back of Tayler Bryant who at that stage was holding fourth. Side-by-side action between these two allowed Osborne– who was absolutely flying through the field – to catch right up and get by Bryant. That left the protagonists in fourth and fifth as time ran out for them to make any more progress.
Bryant had to be satisfied with sixth while there were some notable performances behind him. William Exton was in the thick of the action throughout and survived to finish seventh, while Ayrton Hodson worked his way up to an impressive eighth. Christina Orr-West did incredibly well too, considering she had a new engine installed after Saturday’s race.
Notable too was Fynn Osborne who put in a great drive to round out the top ten from 16th on the grid. He had been wrongly sent to the back of the grid after the full restart to Saturday’s race having qualified on the front row. To his absolute credit he let his driving do the talking after being left on the back foot and put in a great performance to prove his pace at Hampton Downs this weekend is amongst the best.
The focus now switches to Race 18, the last of 2023. Once again the championship will boil down to the final race. Sixty-eight points is the difference and there are 75 for a race win. There’s not too long to wait to see who will join Gray in the hot seat at the Nürburgring.
Words & Images: Supplied