Seven drivers in with a shot of Toyota 86 Championship
Despite there being just three races to run at the final round from the 19 that made up the season, there are no less than seven drivers in with a mathematical shot at lifting the title and the Supercars test prize as the teams and drivers undertake their final preparation this week.
Rowan Shepherd, Simon Evans, Marco Giltrap, Hugo Allan, Justin Allen, Matthew McCutcheon and Dion Pitt all have a chance if the math goes their way, but it will have to be a topsy turvy weekend packed with more drama than usual if McCutcheon or Pitt end up lifting the crown.
A far more likely scenario is that the battle will come down to a three way fight between Shepherd, Evans and Giltrap and if something happens to them, or all three, then the doors could open for Hugo Allan or Justin Allen. It really is that close.
Reigning champion Rowan Shepherd sits in pole position in the title chase, with a lead of 37 points over second placed Simon Evans in what is shaping up to be a replay of the final round drama of last season, but with even more added spice.
Shepherd though, is far too canny and experienced to do anything other than focus on each race as he normally does. His recent form has been solid, but not helped by mid field pace on the all-important test days before the race weekends. His 37 point lead could be overturned in a single race and the Christchurch ace will be well aware of that.
Form for the front runners in the championship chase was a little patchy at the penultimate round overall, it wasn’t just Shepherd scrabbling round for good results.
Evans was going well but had a puncture in the final race which effectively scuppered his whole weekend. Justin Allen too had a nightmare round with two non-finishes from three races. That form of the front runners, plus the fact that Giltrap, Hugo Allan and Zac Stichbury all recorded their first wins in the category, has left the final wide open.
Although this is the second visit to the circuit this season for the championship, the first visit was largely affected by rain and wet or damp track conditions, so picking a winner or a favourite based on that is tremendously difficult. All of the 21 drivers know the circuit really well and all will be hoping to make a significant step forward from their first visit earlier in the season.
Assuming the top three title chasers can keep their heads and doing what they have to do to maximise their chances, it could be another weekend like Taupo where other drivers hog the podium. Allan is fast and on a rich vein of form currently and will be keen to pick up where he left off at Taupo, with a win.
Ronan Murphy was another to make great strides at Taupo after considerable work on his car beforehand. He was on the pace throughout the weekend and looked like a potential race winner. McCutcheon too is always there or thereabouts and you could throw in Brock Gilchrist, John Penny, Stichbury or Pitt as potential race winners at any stage of the weekend.
In the chase for rookie honours, Allan has a relatively comfortable lead, but a poor weekend will let the likes of McCutcheon and Pitt into the picture. In the masters class, Penny has a solid lead but Mark Mallard will be back to put the pressure on after missing the last round due to isolating.
It all begins on Friday with three practice sessions. Qualifying takes place on Saturday morning with one race on Saturday afternoon then the final two races of a thrilling 2022 championship on Sunday.