Rowan Shepherd has won the 2021 Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship after a mesmerising final race at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.
Shepherd needed to finish second behind race winner Simon Evans and did exactly that, despite Evans trying everything he could to force attacks from third placed Brock Gilchrist and fourth placed Ronan Murphy to try and push Shepherd back into a position where he wouldn’t have enough points to beat Evans to the title.
Shepherd however, held on in style and took the title by just five points – his tally of 973 trumping Evans’ 968 after 15 hugely competitive races.
“There was so much going on in that race,” said the new champion afterwards. “Simon was doing everything he could to back me up and get another car in the middle of us. He did really well but we got there, and that’s a credit to the team. On Friday we were nowhere, but we’ve managed to take the win overall.”
His chief title rival Ryan Wood held second early on in the race ahead of Shepherd, but any chance of taking the title was lost when contact forced his retirement late in the race. That meant third overall in the final standings.
With points scored over the weekend defining the final grid of the season, Shepherd was on pole position with Evans joining him on the front row in the Wet & Forget car. Wood lined up third for Wholesale Cars Direct, with Sunday morning race winner Gilchrist fourth in the CareVets TR86. Murphy in the Dayle ITM Racing TR86 and Justin Allen for NAPA Autoparts made up row three.
It was Evans who made the best start and he took a lead he was never to lose. He was doing everything he had to do by leading, but what mattered was what was happening behind him. Shepherd tucked in behind the leader at the start and tried to stay glued to his rear bumper, but on lap two a flying Wood found a way by, which put Evans into the championship winning position.
Shepherd had done the maths, however, and repassed Wood within a couple of laps. Wood fought back and looked threatening but it all started to unravel for the Wholesale Cars Direct racer when he took to the grass at the final corner on lap six. He went backwards after that, falling prey to Gilchrist and Murphy and then the rest before pulling off and retiring.
Evans meanwhile, was focussing on holding up Shepherd to try and bring Gilchrist and Murphy into play but Shepherd played his cards well and stayed on the bumper of the Wet & Forget car for the rest of the race, not giving an inch let alone enough space for either Gilchrist or Murphy to make a move. As the front four crossed the line overlapping it was Evans from Shepherd, Gilchrist and Murphy.
1 Simon Evans
2 Rowan Shepherd
3 Brock Gilchrist
4 Ronan Murphy
5 Marco Giltrap
6 John Penny
7 Justin Allen
8 Hugo Allan
9 Alexandra Whitley
10 Christina Orr-West
11 Mark Mallard
12 Tayler Bryant
13 Todd Foster
DNF Ryan Wood