Let battle commence: this weekend at Hampton Downs in the northern Waikato, Christchurch teenager Ryan Yardley plans to win the 2016-2017 Toyota 86 Championship.
Yardley has been on the podium at all five rounds of the championship to date. Driving with the CareVets team he has won two races, finished second no less than seven times and has a 74 point lead over second-placed Reid Harker of Albany. Yardley says he is looking forward to the weekend and is going out to win.
"Hampton Downs is cool, it's got a lot of elevation change which we really don't get otherwise in New Zealand. The key to a good lap is getting a good run off the last corner and up onto that long front straight. It's also important to get the car to 'flow' nicely through turns two and three," he said.
With three races this weekend and 75 points available for a win each time the TR 86 race cars grid up, Yardley (18) can quickly put the title out of reach provided he qualifies well and drives to win the championship. Equally, the smallest error in qualifying or racing can enable his rivals to close in.
Ranged against him with a chance at the title are Harker, Albany; Michael Scott, Te Puke; and Yardley's team-mate and fellow Cantabrian Jack Milligan, who leads the rookie title chase.
Harker has six wins to his name, including a sensational clean sweep of the penultimate round at Manfeild. Second in the championship, he has won more races than Yardley but suffered setbacks in the southern rounds. Now completing a second full season of the Toyota 86 Championship in his Aegis Oil/Washworld TR 86 Harker is 27 points clear of third-placed Michael Scott.
"I feel a lot more confident with the speed of the car and the team is working incredibly well together. We have found a set-up window with the car that enables me to get the most out of it. We have had our misfortunes but we have done the most we can to put ourselves in contention to win the Championship," he said.
Ryan Yardley's former team-mate, Scott is recovering from a devastating crash at the first round. Scott has shown immense mental toughness as he fights back into championship contention. Switching from his damaged car to the ex-Callum Quin TR 86 seems to have suited his clinical driving style, forged in the intense competition of the premier single-seater Toyota Racing Series. Scott has five second placings and two thirds in this year's championship.
The top rookie is Jack Milligan of Christchurch. In late 2016, he won the CareVets Racing Scholarship drive and has rewarded team owner Keith Houston with a strong performance to be fourth overall and leading first-timer. He has one win to his name, taken at Teretonga in the deep south, and is proving the value of consistency in the championship.
The leading Masters category driver is John Penny, who has had an uneven year in his Neil Allport-run car. Penny is sixth overall and took a step forward on the points ladder with three top ten finishes at Manfeild while category rival Mike Lightfoot was unable to race - the latter having not recovered from a rollover in the South Island.
A record 19 entrants have contested the championship this year, racing for a $100,000 prize fund spread across the six rounds. The Toyota 86 Series is televised locally on TV3 and internationally on a range of networks.
Toyota 86 Championship standings
Ryan Yardley 931
Reid Harker 857
Michael Scott 830
Jack Milligan 706
Brody McConkey 658
John Penny 605