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Penny steals Toyota 86 race at the flag

Veteran John Penny won the race of the day at Hampton Downs today, leaving it until the drag race to the finish line to pass race leader Dion Pitt and deny the rookie his first win in the Toyota 86 Championship.

It was 54 year old Penny’s second win of the season and one of the most spectacular finishes in the nine year history of the Toyota 86 series. Pitt looked to have the race sewn up, but the wily veteran had managed his tyres using all of his years of experience and was able to build a race winning challenge in the closing stages of the 14 lap race.

“We have had a good car all weekend,” said a delighted Penny afterwards. “I tried to cool the tyres and then was able to attack for the last three laps and thankfully it came off in the race to the line. One for the old boys!”

With the starting grid being a reverse of the top ten finishers from the first race it was Zac Stichbury on pole position and Pitt alongside on the front row. As the lights went out it was Pitt who got away from the start line better. Alongside Stichbury by the first corner, he held his line on the outside and emerged in front. Penny made it past Stichbury into turn two and Brock Gilchrist was soon past and into third too. Once on their own, those three were able to focus on building a cushion over the chasing pack.

As the cars surged across the line to complete the first lap it was Pitt from Penny, Gilchrist, then Stichbury, Marco Giltrap a fast-starting Simon Evans, Justin Allen, Hugo Allan and race one winner Rowan Shepherd.

With the reverse grid format, the race evolved quickly and by the end of the lap, Evans was on Stichbury’s tail challenging for fourth, while title rival Shepherd had moved up to seventh in the pair’s fight to get to the front.

This intense midfield battle rightly captured all of the attention as the front three made their escape. By the halfway mark, Evans had his mirrors full of a five car train comprising Shepherd, Allan, Allen and Stichbury. Numerous passing and side by side racing allowed Evans to steal a few car lengths late on ahead of Shepherd and for a while it was the Speed Works driver defending left, right and centre. All would ultimately make it to the flag without incident, though the positions were changing constantly.

Out at the front Pitt kept it clean and maintained a lead of a few car lengths ahead of Penny, with Gilchrist chasing the pair of them but unable to make too much of an impression as the race progressed.

There seemed to be no stopping Pitt at the front, however, but all was not well in the Action Motorsports car. As the chequered flag came out a charging Penny exited the final corner with more momentum and got his nose ahead as the flag dropped.

“The car went off a bit on the last few laps and there wasn’t much I could do about it to be honest,” said a disappointed but gracious Pitt in his post-race interview.

Behind the drama at the front, Shepherd eventually found a way by Evans on the last lap for fourth to narrow the points gap to the championship leader even further. Evans came home fifth for Giltrap Racing, with Hugo Allan a solid sixth after another impressive run, Justin Allen in seventh, Marco Giltrap eighth, Stichbury ninth and a very impressive tenth for Ronan Murphy who started at the back.

Sunday brings two more races for the Toyota 86 Championship drivers – with Race 3 based on the second fastest times from Saturday qualifying and the final race in the afternoon featuring a grid based on points scored in the first three Hampton Downs races.

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