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Rooney takes Race 1 at Taupo

Jackson Rooney maintained his run at the top at the final round of the 2023-2024 Toyota 86 Championship with a fine victory from pole position in the first race at the Taupo International Motorsport Park Supercars event.

Rooney was slow away from his pole position spot, conceding the lead to William Exton early on and settling into second place ahead of a fired up Lockie Bloxsom – fresh from the Porsche qualifying session directly before the Toyota 86 opener. Once in the lead, Jackson never looked back.

“I wasn’t too flash away from the line for sure but we have good pace,” he said afterwards. “I was under a bit of pressure too from Lockie so it wasn’t anywhere near as easy as it looked.”

Bloxsom came home an impressive second, ahead of Hunter Robb who fought his way through the top ten to the final spot on the podium. For championship contenders William Exton and Tom Bewley there were mixed fortunes.

Exton led away but ultimately had to be satisfied with fourth place. That, however, was enough to assume the championship lead with two races to go after Bewley could finish only ninth after a disastrous first lap that saw him and Thomas Mallard make heavy contact on the infield section. It was enough to put Mallard out of the race and Bewley to more or less the back of that pack.

After the dramas of lap one several drivers further back made great progress and the early running order saw Rooney out ahead of Exton, followed by Bloxsom and a very fast-starting Robb, followed by a smoky Justin Allen charging in conditions the championship veteran loves. Both were absolutely thriving in the challenging conditions.

It was Robb who made more significant progress as the race progressed, getting past Exton and leaving Allen further adrift. Another having an absolute flyer of a race, Tayler Bryant, was fired up throughout and was nose to tail with Exton for the rest of the race.

As the race progressed, Allen’s mechanical issues pushed him back towards Hayden Bakkerus and Alice Buckley, another revelling in the tricky conditions. They in turn established a six second lead over Bewley, halting the championship leader’s progress.

Bewley was not on the pace of the leaders and potentially carrying damage from his lap one incident, so to salvage ninth and hold off a charging Will Morton, was about the best he could do.

At the flag it was Rooney from Bloxsom, Robb, Exton, Bryant, Bakkerus, Allen, Buckley, Bewley and Morton for the top ten places. Behind them, series debutant Ben Stewart caught the eye with a stylish drive from the back of the grid to an eventual 12th at the flag.

Saturday afternoon will bring the second race of the weekend, with a grid based on the top ten finishers from the morning race being reversed. That will put Morton and Bewley on the front row.

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