Rowan Shepherd overcomes the odds to retain Toyota 86 Championship
A season packed with drama ended with an ailing Rowan Shepherd in a fight for survival to retain his Toyota 86 Championship title, but the Christchurch Action Motorsports ace came through to be the only driver in the category’s history to mount a successful championship defence.
Blighted by severe food poisoning throughout the final day’s racing in the 2022 series, Shepherd got out of his sick bed to race in the final race knowing he only needed ninth or better to win if title rival Simon Evans won. Evans did win – in style – and Shepherd hung on to come home in seventh and beat Evans to the title and the Triple Eight Race Engineering Supercar prize test drive by a scant seven points.
The build up to the race was intense as the rain came down and left the track damp prior to the start. Evans made a great start from the pole position he had secured on points scored in the first two races to lead into turn one. But fellow front row starter Shepherd was obviously struggling and quickly fell back into the pack. Some great work by Action Motorsports team mates John Penny and Ronan Murphy in the lower half of the top ten seemed to settle the reigning champion and halt his decline through the field but it looked like hard work.
A great scrap up front ultimately saw Evans take the race win and the round win, having done everything he could possibly do to win the title. The Heart of Racing ace Hugo Allan – already confirmed as Rookie champ in the series – did his level best to push Evans into a mistake and take the race and round win but it was not to be. After an epic 16 laps the two crossed the line metres apart, but with Evans taking the flag, headlights blazing.
With Marco Giltrap following Allan home to complete the race podium, third place in the championship went his way by just two points and that meant a 2-3 overall for Giltrap Racing.
Brock Gilchrist drove a hard-charging race after losing his first win in the morning due to a five second penalty. Justin Allen ended his best ever season in the category with a fighting fifth place whilst Christina Orr-West put in her best drive of the season by some margin to claim sixth and the race’s fastest lap.
Shepherd struggled home in seventh with Masters champ and team mate John Penny playing an admirable rear gunner role to bring his mate home and take eighth. Zac Stichbury and Clay Osborne rounded out the top ten in the final race of the season.
Rowan will now be keen to recover and prepare for his trip to Australia next month courtesy of the Tony Quinn Foundation where he will enjoy a full test in a Supercar with one of the sport’s most iconic teams Triple Eight Race Engineering.
The team behind the likes of Shane van Gisbergen and the previous successes of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes will have the perfect opportunity to see just what the TR86 champion has to offer.