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Stichbury leads all the way for first TR86 win

Zac Stichbury led from lights to flag at the Taupo International Motorsport Park this afternoon, to record his first victory in the 2022 Toyota 86 Championship ahead of Brock Gilchrist.

In the fight for the championship, a post-race five second time penalty for Rowan Shepherd pushed him behind Simon Evans in the results and allowed the Giltrap Racing ace to close the gap in the points. It proved a disaster for the third 2022 title contender Justin Allen, who retired mid-race.

For Stichbury, it marked a continuation of his weekend dominance at the circuit, which started with the fastest times on Thursday and Friday practice, before a dominant pole position run in Saturday morning’s qualifying session.

He was quick to point out that winning his first race in the championship wasn’t as easy as it looked, however. “It was definitely not easy. Straight out of the gate we had a radio fail and then the dash display was flickering and playing up but thankfully I still had the rev counter,” he said. “Those are definitely not the things you want to have alongside you when you are starting from pole position in this category.

“Leading these races is difficult but after the first lap I was just focussing on moving forward and trying the catch the guys at the back. It’s really fantastic to win and I’m also stoked for the team as it’s their first win in the Toyota 86 Championship too. We don’t have a title at stake so we’re just focussed now on learning and being fast. I can’t wait to get out and race again.”

Stichbury made a text book start to lead from Gilchrist and a battling Hugo Allan and Rowan Shepherd, a battle which was joined later on the lap by Evans and Ronan Murphy.

Evans found a way through to fourth at the end of the first lap, followed by Murphy, Allan, Dion Pitt and Justin Allen, who was already carrying some damage to the rear fender. It was this battle pack that had everyone’s attention in the first half of the race. Pitt passed Allan at the end of the second lap but then fell back at turn one and into the clutches of Allen, who just got by and set after Hugo’s Heart of Racing car.

A rare mistake by Allan at the hairpin on the third lap pushed him behind but worse was to come when Allen and Pitt made contact approaching the infield hairpin on the fourth lap. Justin was momentarily airborne before running off into the gravel. He got back onto the track, but the damage to his rear suspension spelt instant retirement and a major blow to his championship hopes.

At the front Stichbury maintained a comfortable lead over Gilchrist, while Rowan Shepherd and Simon Evans maintained their positions in the top four, despite Ronan Murphy’s spirited efforts to get past the Wet and Forget Giltrap Racing car.

Gilchrist was also having a strong race nearer the front, and spent the last three laps edging closer to the leader, but it wasn’t enough. The rookie from Hawkes Bay held his nerve and raced home to take a popular first win in the championship.

Gilchrist could be well satisfied with a fighting second place, while Shepherd was relieved to avoid the drama behind him and beat Evans to the flag. His penalty ultimately dropped him to fifth in the race behind both Evans and Murphy. Dion Pitt came home sixth, Hugo Allan seventh with John Penny eighth, Matthew McCutcheon ninth and Marco Giltrap tenth.

Tomorrow morning’s second race will form up for the start with a grid based on the top ten finishers from Saturday starting in reverse order. Eleventh to 21st place finishers from Saturday’s race form the second half of the grid in that order. What that means is that tenth place finisher today, Giltrap will start from pole position with McCutcheon alongside.

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