Shepherd wins again and Best Bars Toyota 86 title now a three-way fight
A huge weekend for Rowan Shepherd brought two more wins on Sunday at the third round of the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship and propelled him into the points lead ahead of Simon Evans and Ryan Wood.
Sunday started well for Wood as he got his own title challenge in the championship back on track with a crucial win on the road. Unfortunately a post-race penalty of two seconds for exceeding track limits in the battle for the lead dropped him to second in the results behind Shepherd – who therefore took his second straight victory.
With a reverse top ten starting grid based on Saturday’s results, it turned into a race of two halves following a Safety Car period just after half way in the 12 lap race.
At the first start Alexandra Whitley – starting from the front row – made a solid getaway and quickly established a lead but Wood was not far behind after a challenging Saturday that included a spin which meant he had a decent starting spot for the reverse grid.
Wood, in the Wholesale Cars Direct TR86, found a way past the Tony Richards Toyota 86 of Whitley early on and moved out to a comfortable lead, with Saturday winner Shepherd the next to get past Alexandra. But that was how it settled and it was those three who built a decent gap on the fierce battle pack behind which included Christina Orr-West, Marco Giltrap, Brock Gilchrist and Ronan Murphy.
Unfortunately for him, after a very strong showing on Saturday, Murphy locked up going into turn one after earlier contact and buried himself in the gravel – an off which cost him any chance of another good result and which brought out the Safety Car for two laps. It was to change the whole complexion of the race.
At the restart Shepherd attacked Wood immediately and found a way alongside. In another epic few moments that had a good sized crowd on their feet, Wood and Shepherd battled it out side by side until Wood eventually prevailed – but crucially he had exceeded track limits in the process.
From that moment he got his head down and raced away to an impressive win on the road with Shepherd charging hard behind. Unfortunately for Wood, the top two finishing positions were reversed following a judicial investigation.
“Rowan was fast early,” said a delighted Wood afterwards. “I saw him coming so he must have got an awesome start. I’m pretty happy, the car pace is awesome. Yesterday was unfortunate and so was the penalty, but that’s racing.”
The main beneficiary of the restart turned out to be Christina Orr-West – continuing her huge improvement this weekend at Manfeild. Quickly into her stride after the restart, she passed Whitley for third and even caught up the two leaders over the course of the final two laps to secure her best result of the championship so far in third place for Dayle ITM Racing.
Behind the top three Brock Gilchrist had a solid race and plenty of side by side action on his way to fourth while Whitley survived a wild moment across the grass to eventually secure a top five result. Justin Allen was next with Marc Giltrap just behind him. Championship leader Simon Evans was near the back of the pack before the Safety Car, but managed to claw his way into eighth for some valuable championship points, while Todd Foster and Tayler Bryant rounded out the top ten.
It was Shepherd who converted pole position into a race lead in the third and final race of the weekend but Wood and Evans were never far behind. Wood got his nose in front on lap six but Shepherd wasn’t done and fought back to take the lead in a great move at the first turn which saw him go right, then left and then underneath Wood forcing Ryan to go wide. Evans tried to make the most of the situation too, but the three emerged with Shepherd first, Wood second and Evans third.
There was never more than a few tenths between the top three as the great battles which are a feature of this year’s championship continued at the front.
Although he had the pace to stay with the leaders, Evans never looked strong enough to go for a pass as he and two leaders gapped the rest of the field in the second half of the race. Wood kept the pressure on Shepherd right up until the last corner of the last lap, but Rowan held on to take the chequered flag.
Behind the superb tussle for first second and third, Brock Gilchrist had a strong drive to fourth and although he did make an impression on the leaders in the second half, he like Evans was unable to mount a challenge to the leading group.
Ronan Murphy had a good race to finish fifth, having passed his team mate Christina Orr-West and pulled away. Orr-West managed a sixth placed finish while Marco Giltrap came alive in the second half of the race to come through to seventh after a good dice with Justin Allen.
Allen came home eighth – but was penalised later – leaving the position to Todd Foster. Tayler Bryant enjoyed a race long battle with Foster and eventually took ninth with Mark Mallard completing the top ten.