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Brock Gilchrist emerges from Race 1 drama to win Toyota 86

Brock Gilchrist converted pole position to a first win of the season and got his Toyota 86 Championship campaign off to the best possible start, but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Matakana youngster.

At the lights he got a great start and had a comfortable lead out of the first chicane but it was all for nothing when a major crash further down the order left newcomers Harry Townshend and Saxon Sheehan – on his home track – out of the race and with badly damaged cars. The red flag came out and the race was stopped while the mess was cleaned up.

With less than a lap completed it meant a full restart and at the lights it was Gilchrist again who won the drag race to the chicane ahead of the remaining 15 cars in the race. Behind him fellow front row starter Clay Osborne didn’t make the best of getaways but gathered everything up quickly and was able to hold off a charging Justin Allen into the first turns.

This time the pack kept things neat and tidy and they all filed through the first lap intact. As they crossed the line it was Gilchrist from Osborne, Allen, Tom Bewley, William Exton, Tayler Bryant, John Penny, Christina Orr-West, Rylan Gray, Dion Pitt and the rest.

It didn’t take a fired-up Osborne long to mount a challenge to the leader and by the second lap he was well into his stride and looming large in Gilchrist’s mirrors as the two pulled out a one second gap on Allen. Further back a fast-starting Bryant lost a couple of places in the battle promoting Penny and Exton in the top five battle.

All eyes were on the front of the race as Osborne got closer and closer before a major effort to get past on the third lap. Gilchrist though, fought back hard with a brave move into the chicane before Highland’s unique bridge feature. As these two squabbled an orderly queue of Allen, Bewley, Exton and Penny formed up behind but the lead two had slightly more pace and were able to move away from the chasing pack as the race wore on.

For Gilchrist particularly, the showdown at the chicane with Osborne proved to be the decisive moment in his race and with renewed confidence, the NEXEN Tyre TR86 slowly began to build a small lead.

Behind the leaders, the fans enjoyed some titanic racing for the midfield places with Bryant, Orr-West and Pitt right in the thick of the action for much of the race. Australian Gray in the eye-catching Castrol supported car was on their tail throughout as well, enjoying his first taste of the frenetic action in the New Zealand Toyota 86 championship after a season competing in the Australian championship.

With five laps to go Orr-West made a move on Penny into the chicane before the bridge, moving herself up the order before Pitt piled on the pressure on the reigning Masters champion down the front straight. Having locked up twice already due to damage on his car’s ABS system after earlier contact in the race, Penny began to fall back down the order and Pitt, Gray, Osborne and Morton all found a way through before the end of the seventh lap.

Gilchrist meanwhile had established a narrow half second lead over Osborne who in turn had a second and a half on Allen and the final laps turned into a straight fight for the win between the two youngsters. It wasn’t comfortable for Allen in third either as he had a charging Bewley breathing down his neck in the battle for the final podium spot.

That, however, was how the order stayed until the chequered flag. A delighted Gilchrist took his first win of the season and got his championship challenge off to the best possible start.

“I was actually gutted that the race was stopped as I made a great start first time about,” he said afterwards. “Thankfully I got an even better one on the restart and was able to lead. Clay was there throughout but I just kept my eyes forward and focussed on staying in the lead. It’s great for me and the team to win and start like this, the car was working really well there.”

With Gilchrist first and Osborne second, Allen managed to hold off Bewley for third. Fourth was nevertheless a great debut result for the leading rookie in the race. Behind him William Exton took fifth, Bryant a solid sixth on his return to the championship and Orr-West a fighting seventh. Pitt and Gray rounded out the top ten.

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