Ryan Wood reclaimed the lead in the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship with two races left after another thrilling race at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.
In a nail-biting race where the lead swapped twice between himself and arch rival Rowan Shepherd, Wood raced home in the blue Wholesale Cars Direct TR86 to take victory by less than half a second. Simon Evans was slightly further back in fifth and lost ground to the two series leaders on points. The top eight were covered by under four and a half seconds at the end.
“I think that would be rated as the best race of the season,” said Woods afterwards. “Rowan and I raced really clean out there and Ronan was right on us. I had to run the block as the pace wasn’t quite there today. We’ll tune it up for tomorrow and see what happens. I’m not too worried about the championship, I’ll just go out there and try and do the best I can in both of the races. If we win them that’s a bonus.”
Shepherd had taken a surprise pole position after some Friday testing struggles, but it was Wood who made the better getaway from the front row to lead into the first turn with Shepherd hot on his heels. Further back John Penny also made a good start and put himself into the lead pack which comprised Shepherd, Wood, Ronan Murphy, Marco Giltrap, Hugo Allan and Evans.
At the front, Shepherd quickly responded to Wood and dived up the inside at the first turn to retake the lead at the start of lap two. Barely two laps later, Wood found his way back into the lead and immediately set about forging a gap to his charging rival. Shepherd though was too quick for Wood to shake off and numerous times over the course of the race he looked frustrated in his efforts to find a way past Wood. Ryan, however, kept his eyes on the road ahead and stayed out in front of a train of eight cars.
The leading train settled a little during the middle of the race with nobody within it able to make any progress. Lap after lap it was Wood, from Shepherd, Ronan Murphy, Marco Giltrap, Brock Gilchrist, Penny, impressive debutant Allan and Evans. In the closing stages Evans benefitted from the action around him and Penny and he moved up to fourth and fifth respectively with one lap to go. It represented a decent drive in the circumstances for the multiple domestic and international champion.
“We found a whole lot of bent stuff in the front of the car after qualifying, which is why I had a bad performance there,” he explained. “I’m pretty happy with how the car was in the race though, it’s just bit of a one lane track here unfortunately and makes it tough unless you’re quite a bit quicker than everyone else. Anything can happen and tomorrow will be super tight.
Giltrap, Gilchrist and Allan came home sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. Further back there was plenty of entertainment and action in the second group, which like the leading pack was locked together throughout the race. Christina Orr-West and Justin Allen eventually emerged from the action to claim the final two places in the top ten.
With 75 points for a race win and 67 for second, Wood heads into Sunday with a six point lead over Shepherd. “That was probably one of the best races I’ve had with Ryan,” said Shepherd. “It wasn’t the first place we need but we’re there. I think we’ve got a slightly quicker car than Ryan, so I’ll need to make the most of it tomorrow.”
Sunday’s action will conclude the 2021 championship series, with a morning race based on a reverse grid of the top ten from Saturday’s race with the decider on Sunday afternoon based on points scored for the weekend.