Matakana’s Brock Gilchrist is in prime position for the 2023 Toyota 86 Championship title as the six-round, 18-race series reaches its conclusion this weekend at Hampton Downs – but he’s far from home and dry.
With two other drivers – Clay Osborne and Dion Pitt – still in with a shot of victory, it’s guaranteed to be a rollercoaster weekend around the 2.7km National Circuit.
Gilchrist has had a fantastic campaign despite being late to the party to get his season deal in place. His small team have done the season on a tight budget too, but the 19-year-old has lifted his driving to a new level in 2023.
A modest, session-by-session, race-by-race approach has paid real dividends for Gilchrist and his team and even when the chips have been down and he’s been in a pressure situation, he’s delivered wins or top finishes. As a result, he’s won an incredible nine races so far this season and that’s why he heads the championship table by 76 points with three races to go.
The fact that it is just 76 points and that Osborne and Pitt can still win is an indication of just how competitive this championship is and the stakes are incredibly high in 2023.
The championship winner and top rookie will be heading to Europe for an all-expenses paid trip to race a GR Supra EVO GT4 in the third round of the ADAC GT4 Germany Championship at the iconic Nürburgring. There’s also a Gen 3 Camaro Supercar test with Triple Eight Race Engineering waiting for one driver in the championship courtesy of the Tony Quinn Foundation. So there’s plenty to play for, for all of the drivers in the field.
Osborne can win the title if he wins the three races with Brock not finishing any higher than fifth in each race or if he finishes at least six places ahead of the series leader in each race. Clay has been fast all season and took his first win last time out at Manfeild. Winning all three races at Hampton Downs is tough, but it’s possible as Gilchrist proved earlier in the season.
Pitt will take the title if he wins the three races and if Brock finishes no higher than 17th, with Clay finishing no higher than seventh in each. A tough ask, but Pitt is ‘the man’ when it comes to putting in the big performances when they are most needed.
As ever though, there’s a twist. If Gilchrist has a DNF at any stage, all bets are off the table and the pendulum swings significantly in favour of his challengers.
In the race to be top rookie, Australia’s Rylan Gray holds the cards with a 97-point lead over Tom Bewley, but like the championship protagonists, must ensure he first finishes all three races. If he doesn’t Bewley could pounce.
Watch out this weekend too for a resurgent John Penny, the runaway masters leader now mixing it at the front with drivers half his age, and the younger and Hugo Allan, a gun performer in last year’s championship making a one-off return for the season finale. Also back for the final round and helping boost numbers to 21 cars for the weekend are Clay Richards, son of racing legend Steven Richards and Hunter Robb.
Nobody in the history of the ultra-competitive championship has ever won ten races in a season. Can Gilchrist take the title in style and set new standards in what has always been one of the country’s most competitive motorsport championships?
We’ll find out this weekend.
Words and Images: Supplied