Christchurch driver Ryan Yardley is aiming to cement his 2015-2016 Toyota 86 Championship lead this weekend at Teretonga near Invercargill having met his toughest challenge of the championship at his 'home' circuit last weekend.
Driving for the two-car CareVets team, Yardley took the lead with a strong performance in the second round at Taupo in December, but knew he had his work cut out to retain it going into round three last weekend. Ruapuna, his home track, is the one he is least familiar with of the six championship round venues.
His strongest rivals showed their game at Ruapuna, with Reid Harker and Matt Lockwood sharing the wins and a resurgent Michael Scott - now a team mate at International Motorsport with Connor Adam - harrying the leading drivers at every turn.
In the end consistency paid off for Yardley, who managed to retain the championship lead despite Reid Harker clawing his way to within eight points. Now Yardley is looking for a turning point as the championship reaches its southernmost extreme while Harker is aiming to further chip away at the narrow point difference between the pair.
In past years, the halfway point in the six round championship has often clearly signaled the likely winner. With three of six rounds complete, the top four - Yardley, Harker, Lockwood and Scott - are all strong contenders. The four are separated by just 85 points with a win offering 75 points.
A mis-step, Yardley knows, could spell disaster. Equally, a strong performance at a circuit he knows and likes could push him ahead and propel him closer to the title he covets.
Last year, Yardley won the second Teretonga race in the wet; Michael Scott won the third in the dry. With a 'weather bomb' predicted by the Met Service, the weekend may favour those who run best on a slick track. Yardley and Lockwood have both shown they wet weather abilities.
Matt Lockwood's crew have been hard at work this week repairing damage to his Placemakers TR86 after he crashed in practice at Ruapuna. He plans to return to his own car at this round, having used the LightingPlus number 99 car at Ruapuna.
Going into the sculpted turns and fast straights of Teretonga this weekend, the whole field is alive with the prospect of close racing and scoring valuable points. The TR 86 race cars are well suited to the circuit's fast, flowing layout and grippy surface - and even to the 'variable' weather.
Toyota 86 Championship Points after round three of six
Ryan Yardley 549
Reid Harker 541
Matt Lockwood 474
Michael Scott 464
Jack Milligan 394
Brody McConkey 375
John Penny 370
Connor Adam 303
Jacob Smith 286
Jaden Ransley 263
Mike Lightfoot 243
Miles Cockram 226
Ash Blewett 217
Drew Ridge 202
Tom Stokes 186
Ben MacDonald 171
Will Brown 158
Martin Short 8