Rookie battle heats up as Toyota 86s head for Taupo

There are just a handful of points between the leading rookies in the 2015-2016 Toyota Finance 86 Championship going into the final round at Taupo over Easter.

Three drivers are in contention for the rookie title: Glendowie student and racer Jacob Smith, 16; Christchurch’s Ryan Yardley, 17; and Albany driver Reid Harker, 20.

Smith held the early points lead after two North Island rounds, but when the championship headed south after Christmas for the next two rounds Christchurch’s Ryan Yardley emerged as points leader.

After five rounds and fifteen races the gap between Yardley in his CareVets racing scholarship car and Smith in the Tony Richards Toyota entry is just 13 points, 630 to 617. Albany’s Reid Harker in his Washworld TR 86 has recovered from a disastrous first round and is also in the hunt, seventh overall on 505 points.

Jacob Smith says so far, the championship has exceeded his expectations as a place to learn race-craft, tactics and how to extract the last fraction of a second from the purpose-built TR 86 race cars.

A crash in race one at Teretonga in the deep south underlined for the young driver the paramount importance of consistency. Though he fought back in subsequent races he lost the rookie points lead at that point and now goes into the final round determined to overtake Yardley.

“Teretonga was tough, qualifying sixth then crashing out in race one was disappointing but bringing some points home on Sunday was good. Knowing that I could still fight for the rookie title heading into the next round gave me the determination to fight back,” he said.

Two podium finishes at Manfeild in mid-February enabled the young racer to narrow the gap. Jacob Smith says changes to the Taupo circuit will make it faster and more challenging.

“Drivers will have to change their race strategy and find new passing opportunities. The cars will handle the change well because of their high levels of grip and excellent brakes.

Meanwhile, Ryan Yardley rates Invercargill as his best round with a race win and taking the rookie class points lead. He says small mistakes can have a big impact on a driver’s form when the racing is so competitive. Taupo, he adds, is one of his favourite circuits.

“It is similar to Ruapuna, quite technical, and getting onto the big straight with good speed is very important. I’m happy to arrive at the final round in the rookie lead and I’m keen to keep it that way.”

There are three races at the final round, which takes place at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo, March 26-27. Qualifying and race one take place on the Saturday and the final two races are on Easter Sunday.

With a record full-championship entry of 18 drivers and a further seven who have raced one or more rounds, the third year of the Championship looks set to be the most successful yet. Altogether, ten rookies have competed in the current championship.

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

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