After a five month break between Toyota 86 rounds, Erebus Academy drivers Bailey Sweeny, Harry Gray and Holly Espray were back on track for the Townsville 500 in July.
Unfortunately due to border restrictions between South Australia and Queensland, Jobe Stewart was unable to attend the event.
The weekend brought many ups and downs for the drivers, with two out of three experiencing issues on Saturday that nearly saw their weekends end prematurely.
Gray had a relatively uneventful weekend finishing 12th in the opening race and 16th in both of Sunday’s races.
“My race craft is the thing that let me down a lot over the weekend. I think if I can improve on that, I will be closer to the front of the field,” Gray said.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on my one lap qualifying but probably haven’t been working enough on my race craft so that will be the main focus between now and round three.”
For Espray, an underwhelming qualifying saw her start race one from 24th position before being caught up in a crash early on that saw her car in desperate need of repair.
Fortunately, alongside the Norwell Motorplex crew, Espray was able to repair the car in time for Sunday where she charged through the pack and made up 17 positions in race 2.
“I was very disappointed after race one. I hate damaging cars even if it wasn’t my mistake but it was awesome having everyone help me out to repair the car. I’m really thankful for what they all did,” she said.
“After the disappointment of race one, I was determined to claw my way back through the field. I went from 30th to 13th and had a lot of fun doing it.”
For Sweeny, Saturday’s qualifying session nearly spelled disaster when the electrical issue that plagued his Bathurst season opener appeared again.
The issue was severe enough to leave him unable to complete qualifying or partake in the afternoons race with uncertainty looming over whether he’d get on track at all.
“My weekend was full of emotion,” Sweeny said.
“It started with the disappointment of my car gremlin reoccurring, but then came a massive high when I got back on track and achieved my goal of a top 10 finish.”
Fortunately, after a late night effort from his team, Sweeny was back on track Sunday where he made a spectacular comeback.
The 18-year-old gained an incredible 22 positions over the two races resulting in his first top ten finish in the series.
“Race two was my first race in the 86 series since Bathurst in 2020 so I was keen to get out there and move forward,” he said.
“After watching the crashes the day before I was extra cautious on the first lap but after that it was pedal to the metal.”
“Coming through the field in race two was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a race, I ended up passing 16 cars.”
Townsville was certainly a place of redemption for Sweeny, with the 18-year-old being awarded the Dunlop Driver of the Day.
The award spans Toyota 86, Super2 and Super3 and selects one driver as the recipient.
“After the rough season I’ve had so far, it was awesome to be awarded Dunlop Driver of the Day and have my performance recognised.”
The T86 drivers will be back on track in August for the Sydney SuperNight hosted at Sydney Motorsport Park, August 20-22.