With 12 races down and just three to go, the race to the 2021 Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship title is still wide open.
Either current series leader Rowan Shepherd, early pace setter Ryan Wood or Simon Evans will leave the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on Sunday as the 2021 Championship winner after one of the most closely fought titles in the category’s seven year history.
It’s the first time the circuit has been used in the championship for four seasons and almost nobody in the field has experience of a Toyota 86 at the track.
Shepherd sits on 779 points heading to Taupo, with consistency and a dominant weekend at Manfeild’s third round under his belt. Wood is just two points behind on 777 points and at Pukekohe last time out reignited the devastating form he had shown in the season’s first two race weekends in his blue Wholesale Cars Direct TR86. Evans, racing in the familiar colours of Wet & Forget, has won races too but has arguably been the most consistent of the three and has come through the field on more than one occasion this season to secure a bigger points haul.
It all means this weekend is shaping up to be a classic one for the championship, according to Toyota 86 Category Manager Geoff Short.
“The championship has often gone to the final weekend and had a couple in the fight, but having three in the running, with only seven points between first and third, really does mean it’s anyone’s weekend,’ he said.
“Rowan, Ryan and Simon have been more or less locked together in battle now since the first race of the season and all three have put in some fabulous drives in a super-competitive championship which have proved they are amongst the most talented racing drivers in New Zealand.
“I don’t think there will be anyone who follows the category who won’t be counting down the days until Taupo. It could be an absolute classic. And no, I’m not going to second guess anything as the category manager, like everyone else I’m just going to enjoy the racing. And we’re definitely going to get some.”
With the points so close, none of the three front runners can afford costly mistakes in any of the three races over the weekend and that could potentially open the door for a number of other drivers.
Those most likely to get their elbows out and steal a race win – or at least a podium – are likely to be Brock Gilchrist for CareVets, the impressive Marco Giltrap in his Lexus supported machine and Christina Orr-West or Ronan Murphy for Dayle ITM Racing. These drivers will likely fill the places fourth through to seventh in the final standings, but it’s again too close to call how it will shake out after the final three races.
Watch out too for John Penny and Todd Foster. Penny was very competitive at Pukekohe and could spring a surprise or two at a track he knows well. He’s the only driver in the field who has raced a Toyota 86 at Taupo and that will only be an advantage for him.
Foster has looked like a regular top ten contender in recent races and he too could turn a few heads in his IMS run car.
It all gets underway on Friday with practice sessions. There’s qualifying and a race on Saturday and two races on Sunday.
TR 86 points: