Round 2 of the Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship hit Manfield – Circuit Chris Amon as the inclement and changeable weather made conditions challenging for the four-strong MTEC Motorsport contingent.
Tommy Smith, Kaden Probst, Elliott Cleary and Lucas Fecury suited up for the second of five rounds in Feilding, where many classic moments in New Zealand motorsport have occurred.
Yet another historic moment was on the cards in Saturday’s sole race, with the team aiming big for the 300th Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship race that opened up the weekend. The following day, there was a further opportunity, with the winner of Sunday’s Feature Race receiving the Dan Higgins Trophy.
Smith led the way for MTEC all weekend, qualifying seventh for the first race and finishing sixth, setting the tone for a confidence-building round.
He then went third in the second qualifying session on Sunday before a podium result in Race 2 and fourth in the finale, having looked set for a podium for most of the proceedings.
“I thought it was a really good weekend,” Smith reflected.
“We got a bit better every day, and in the end, we were quick no matter if it was wet or dry, making plenty of improvements compared to Taupo.
“It was super tricky for everyone, to be honest, but I think I adapted well. You don’t know how much pace you’re going to have in the wet, but I knew we were strong in the dry, and we had a wet session in Taupo where I thought we were pacey.
“I think I’m driving better now as well, and maybe it took me a weekend to get back used to a CTFROC car. I’m super excited, and I think we’ve got a bit of momentum now.
“I’m enjoying the back-to-back format of CTFROC. It’s super intense; these four days go forever, and you don’t get that much time off before you’re already preparing for the next one.
“The good thing about it is if you have a bad weekend, the next one is around the corner.
“The reason we’re here is to qualify and race as you can do as much testing as you like, but it doesn’t prepare you for those aspects. To get in that mindset to deliver when the pressure is on can’t be replicated in a test, which is something I struggled with in Formula 3 last season. It’s given me a head start.”
Changeable conditions presented plenty of challenges, and local driver Probst demonstrated flashes of brilliance as results didn’t display his pace at Manfeild.
Qualifying 11th and finishing 12th in the opener, Probst was able to line up 14th on the grid in Race 2 as he retained this position in the second encounter, though he was placed inside the top 10 throughout. Probst capped off the weekend by just missing the top 10 in 11th.
“It was promising to begin with, but then we got a couple of things wrong in qualifying, and it wasn’t a good weekend for us,” Probst summarised.
“It was pretty tough, and you had to drive with your wits about you and believe in your skills to get you through.
“Hampton Downs is my home track, so it should be a better round as the car is sorted, and I’ll expect to be further up there.
“There’s lots of learning, especially by going back-to-back, and it keeps you fresh.”
Cleary’s weekend followed the same narrative as Probst’s as he continued to display potential as he started 13th to be 14th in Race 1 before setting the 11th fastest time in qualifying for the second event, where he finished ninth.
He maintained a top 10 result in Race 3 to be 10th as Cleary gained vital experience in the wet driving the Tatuus FT-60.
“This weekend was a bit tricky,” Cleary recapped.
“In practice, we were one of the fastest cars out there, but we didn’t quite put it together in qualifying, and this put us on the back foot. Getting caught up in the incident in Race 1 hampered us, but in the next two races in the wet, we displayed a strong pace to move from 14th to ninth in Race 2.
“Even in Race 3, we lost a couple of positions but then began to retake places to get back into the top 10, especially in those treacherous conditions.
“There was a lot of aquaplaning, particularly in that last one, as if you got close to another car, you couldn’t see a thing, so that was tricky. The second race was all about getting to the limit quickly, but overall, the weekend was fairly positive.
“I’m really looking forward to Hampton Downs as that is the only circuit on the calendar I’ve actually been to before. I think it will be quite strong for us.
“This format challenges you; it’s all about a quick recovery and not only mentally, but physically being able to keep going.”
It proved a tough round for Brazilian Fecury. After qualifying 14th, he finished the opener in 10th. He was 17th in qualifying for Race 3 and 16th in Race 2 in treacherous conditions. Rebounding back, he climbed up to 13th in the finale, starting from the rear of the field.
“It was a difficult weekend even though we were in the top eight during practice,” said Fecury.
“Qualifying didn’t go our way and the races as well. The conditions were tough with the rain, but we’ll fix it up for the next one.
“I think I adapted well. Race 2 was okay, but the final was a little too much! I don’t think I could do much more here.
“I aim to show the real pace we have since Taupo at Hampton Downs and get some stronger results.”
The title fight continues at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park next weekend (February 2-4).