Justin Allen into Toyota 86 championship fight after second Pukekohe win
Justin Allen made it two race wins from three at Pukekohe Park this afternoon to win the round and close in on the leaders in the Toyota 86 Championship, but it was a disastrous race for championship leader Simon Evans.
With a healthy points tally from a win and a sixth place finish it was Allen on pole position for NAPA Autoparts, with Marco Giltrap alongside for Giltrap Racing.
Allen lead away from the lights and through the first corners but a great start by Simon Evans saw the championship leader jump to third ahead of Matthew McCutcheon. Further back Rowan Shepherd was working hard to make progress from eighth on the grid and he was clearly in a hurry. By the end of the first lap he had forged his way into sixth with Hugo Allan in his mirrors and Brock Gilchrist in his sights.
At the front Allen had his head down and began to pull away, taking the Giltrap Racing pair with him in the early laps. Young Marco, however, clearly had designs on his first win in the championship and matched him corner for corner every lap, even having a cheeky look down the inside at the complex on lap three.
The race quickly developed into a battle between the top three followed by another intense fight for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh headed by McCutcheon. At the halfway point with six laps completed it was Allen leading with Giltrap and Evans tucked onto his tail, then a slight gap to McCutcheon, Gilchrist, Shepherd and Allan and Murphy. It was all set to change in the second half though.
Try as he might Allen couldn’t break away from the Giltrap Racing duo behind him and as he fought to retain the lead it allowed the second group to close in. This meant another eight car slipstreaming chain formed where gaining places was difficult and losing places would be inevitable with even the tiniest mistake.
It wasn’t looking that hot for Shepherd with four laps to go and he began to fall back from Gilchrist leaving the battle for the lead a five way one. It all turned sour with three laps to go, however, when Gilchrist overcooked a dive inside McCutcheon at the hairpin and made contact with him and then Evans. It was a heavy enough hit to send the championship leader into a spin through no fault of his own. There would be an inevitable penalty for Gilchrist but the real loser was Evans, who was forced into the pits for running repairs.
Giltrap continued to take the fight to Allen in the dying stages of the race but the real winner from all of the drama was a surprised Shepherd, who made the most of the situation to get onto McCutcheon’s tail and pass him for a very important third place. That was a double blow for Evans, who did manage to return to the track to salvage the scraps and take a handful of points from the race.
At the flag it was a delighted Allen who took victory, ahead of a charging Giltrap and a disbelieving Shepherd. “It was a lot more difficult defending in that race than chasing as I was this morning,” Justin explained afterwards. “Marco just had a quicker car and I was forced to focus on making my car as wide as possible. I’ve had an awesome day and I’m rapt for everyone who has supported me.”
Behind the top three Hugo Allan completed another solid weekend with fourth for the Heart of Racing squad while McCutcheon had to be satisfied with fifth. Todd Prujean completed his best weekend in the championship so far with a fighting sixth place, one ahead of Christina Orr-West who was fast and solid for Dayle ITM. Dion Pitt brought his Action Motorsports car home in eighth with Clay Osborne and Zac Stichbury completing the top ten.
The result means a change in the championship lead with two rounds to go. Shepherd now has a 15 point lead over Evans at the top of the table. Allen won the round to make huge inroads to the two leaders. John Penny was top Master for the weekend while Hugo Allan took out the Rookie honours.