This weekend we found ourselves in Southern Victoria, at the beautiful and highly publicized track, Phillip Island. This weekend found us facing a new challenge, in a new car, racing in a new series. The Toyota 86 Racing Series is highly competitive, putting the best young drivers in the spotlight of the Supercars events and giving them the chance to prove their worth in the Australian motorsport scene. I must admit, going into this round, I had a lot of speculation about how competitive we would be. After very limited testing, being only one day at Eastern Creek prior to this round, I was unaware of how prepared we would be to attack for a strong result. Bruce Williams has given me a fantastic opportunity this year along with the support of Aisin Australia. Our livery this year was designed by Shockwave Signs once again, and this time they decided to go with a matte finish blue with a gloss white logo on top. This really makes the logo stand up off the car and makes for some great on track images
Friday brought the challenge of the weather... after a few perfect days of pristine track conditions, the day that all the action starts on track, also started in the sky. The clouds loomed over the circuit and began pelting it with heavy rain. One thing was for sure, the track was slippery, but these 86's where a bundle of fun to slide around the track. The session started to form a dry line towards the end and we ended up finishing session 1 in 14th spot. Practice 2 followed later that day, although this time was a reverse of the morning session. This session started dry, and began to heavily rain halfway through our session. One thing we did learn in this session was that in dry conditions, the car had diabolical understeer. We finished this session in 19th and it meant we had a lot of work to do to tune the car up for Qualifying on Saturday morning.
Tom and Ollie from Suspension Concepts worked really hard overnight with Team Engineer John Vernon to turn this 19th place car into a front running machine. Qualifying turned up and the track was warm and sunny, perfect for some fast lap times! I was pushing hard from the outset, the car felt so much better. I was on for a really quick lap time when the session got red flagged with two corners remaining on my lap. This meant that lap was not allowed and we were still sitting back in 16th place. Once the session resumed, I was buried in the pack and had to work to find some track space. I was stuck down in 21st place when I started my last flying lap. I pushed the car extremely hard and ended up crossing the line at the very end to bump myself up to 7th. This was a promising sign that we had moved our set up in the right direction.
Race 1 came later that day and we were bumped up to 6th on the grid after another driver received a technical infringement. I got off to a really good launch and placed my car into 4th by the time we reached turn 2. The first lap consisted of many close battles, which lead to me moving up into 3rd place. The safety car came out and when we went to the restart, it was a huge battle to see who would claim top honours in the first race of 2017. The two in front of me made slight contact which promoted me up into 2nd, before an almighty battle all the way till the finish line saw me cross the line in 2nd place. The interesting twist came when the driver who crossed the line 1st was handed a 30 second penalty for making contact with another car. This gifted us our first National race win! The whole team was ecstatic, I hopped out of the car and ran up to Dad and jumped into his arms. We both had tears in our eyes because we were so happy to have finally won a National race.
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Toyota 86 Series Car
Toyota 86 Racing Series Round 1: Phillip Island
After all the celebrations, it was time to focus on Sunday for two more races. Sunday morning saw me start on pole position, the ideal spot to try and clinch another win from. I got off to an average start, which dropped me back to 2nd, but after a close battle through the first lap I found myself back in 3rd. I fought really hard to quickly regain the lead before a safety car came out for a brief period. I controlled the field off the restart but was quickly put back into 2nd place through the slipstream down the straight. I had an almighty battle with experienced Supercar and GT driver Warren Luff, before putting myself back into the lead and crossing the line in 1st place to rack up my second win for the weekend.
Race 3 was held later in the afternoon on Sunday, with the TeamAISIN86 starting off pole position once again. I got off to another average start in this race and dropped back into 2nd place behind Luff. I pressured Luff as hard as I could before a huge pile up of cars right behind me occurred and triggered a safety car. This safety car lasted up till the chequered flag meaning we finished this race in 2nd.
This weekend was a HUGE weekend for me, clocking up my first National race win on Saturday, following that up with another win and a podium on Sunday. I ended up winning the round and we currently lead the Championship, a fantastic way to kick-start a bumper 2017! I need to thank Bruce Williams for giving me this opportunity, also for having the faith in me to help me prove my worth against the best young drivers in Australia. I also want to thank Aisin Australia, Shockwave Signs and Suspension Concepts for also assisting in helping my dream come true.
Photos: Rhys Vandersyde