Roman Bilinski extended his Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship lead over New Zealand’s Liam Sceats by winning the opening race at Ruapuna on Saturday evening.
The Polish driver stood firm against a race-long challenge from his closest championship rival to take the victory, with the margin between the duo never extending beyond a second for the entire 20 laps.
Jacob Abel’s return to the series was successful, with the Indy NXT driver defending from Kaleb Ngatoa and Alex Crosbie to complete the podium. Ngatoa settled for fourth, ahead of the Southlander.
The battle between Bilinski and Sceats began as soon as the lights went green, with the duo getting good starts off the front row and running side-by-side into the high-speed Turn 1 with the championship leader on the inside. Sceats dropped in behind, followed by Abel, who pipped Ngatoa off the start.
Their gains were short-lived, however, with a multi-car incident in the field between Bryce Aron, Jake Bonilla, Titus Sherlock and Kaden Probst bringing an early red flag.
Aron was running the inside line through the corner and made contact with Probst as he was squeezed in a congested mid-field. The Kiwi spun into Sherlock, who was ahead and an innocent bystander, with both cars turning and stranding in the gravel.
Bonilla and Aron were forced off the track in avoidance but were able to rejoin.
A Safety Car was initially called and eventually upgraded to a red flag to allow for the retrieval of Sherlock’s and Probst’s cars.
Racing resumed some 15 minutes later, with rain on the radar.
Bilinski leapt early at the restart, putting a good gap on Sceats into turns one and two, while Abel managed Ngatoa, who faced pressure from Crosbie.
Sceats responded to the championship leader’s pace on Lap 6, reducing the gap to half a second, which it remained the following circuit.
Ngatoa set the fastest lap to pull closer to Abel on Lap 8, while Sceats pulled one-tenth closer to the leader.
Having dropped to the rear in the Lap 1 incident, Andretti Global star Aron had begun working his way forward, taking tenth on Lap 8 and recovering quick ground on those ahead.
The two leaders continued to run nose-to-tail over the following laps, pulling a slight gap on Abel, who had Ngatoa and Crosbie close behind.
By Lap 15, the front five had a 2.5-second advantage over sixth-placed Gerrard Xie and Canadian Patrick Woods-Toth.
Bilinski put the hammer down on Lap 17, pulling a larger gap over his rival to enter the final circuit with a nine-tenth advantage.
Further back, Aron finally overcame a strong defensive effort from Jett Bowling to take ninth.
Sceats pulled back four-tenths on the leader on the final circuit, crossing the line 0.529 behind in second and three seconds ahead of third-placed Abel.
Ngatoa made light contact with the rear of the American’s car on the final lap but sustained no damage and maintained his composure to come home fourth, ahead of Crosbie.
Xie, Woods-Toth, Shin, Aron and Bowling completed the top ten.
Shin will start from the pole in Sunday’s reverse top-eight race at 1.02 pm, with Woods-Toth second. Crosbie starts off the second row in fourth, while Ngatoa lines up fifth, Abel sixth, Sceats seventh and Bilinski eighth.
Prior to that, the field returns to action for qualifying at 10.04 am for the Lady Wigram Trophy feature, which goes green to conclude the round at 4.28 pm.
All action will be shown live on Sky Sport 5.
|Landan Matriano Lim