Weather dominated proceedings in the first race at Hampton Downs, but it was championship leader Roman Bilinski who drove the perfect race to come from 14th on the grid to win in the opener at the third round of the Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship.
The day’s very changeable conditions at the North Waikato circuit continued with a heavy downpour about twenty minutes before the scheduled race start, leaving teams and drivers with a dilemma on tyre choice.
Kiwis Kaleb Ngatoa and Kaden Probst on the third row – decided to start on full wets on a semi-dry track with more ominous clouds approaching.
At the start the duo took off and indeed for the first few laps the conditions still weighed in favour of the wet weather tyre, giving Ngatoa a handy lead. At the end of the fourth lap the gap between the two options went from a few tenths to four seconds in favour of slicks and that was it for the two gamblers on the wets.
The rain returned with a vengeance with two laps to go but a stranded Nicola Lacorte brought out the Safety Car and that was how the field took the flag after an eventful and tense race.
Bilinski, who had a below average performance in the morning qualifying session, could rightly be very happy with his performance, a scintillating drive that saw him up to sixth by the end of the first lap and into the race lead after a daring move on Ngatoa on lap five.
Late pressure came from Liam Sceats, but the weather gods saved the day for the Polish ace who completed his best race so far in New Zealand to take P1.
“That one was not easy at all,” he said afterwards. “The strategy was perfect. I got enough temperature in the tyres and the car was so strong.
“I got Liam (Sceats) near the start, but Liam was so, so fast and in the last couple of laps he piled the pressure on. The late Safety Car probably saved me as he was much faster. We had a difficult qually from my side and this is my apology to the team. It’s a great end to the day.”
Behind Bilinski and Sceats, Patrick Woods-Toth stood on the podium for the first time this season after a solid drive. It was the Canadian’s first podium, and he was delighted. “The weather was crazy, we were just trying to get a result and we got a podium,” he said afterwards.
Pole position holder Gerrard Xie avoided any drama to come home fourth, finishing just over a second ahead of Tommy Smith. Michael Shin had blinding pace as the track dried but could only manage sixth. Lacorte was classified seventh ahead of Elliott Cleary, an impressive Lucas Fecury for Brazil, and an equally impressive Landan Matriano-Lim – getting his best result so far in 2024 with 10th.
Sunday morning will bring a partially reversed grid for Race 2 with the top eight finishers from Saturday reversed. That will see Cleary and Lacorte on the front row.
Sunday also has a second qualifying session for the afternoon’s feature race – the Dorothy Smith Memorial Trophy. Drivers and teams will be hoping the weather Gods share the good fortune around a little more than just to series leader Bilinski.
2024 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship certified by FIA –– R3, Race 1
|Roman Bilinski (POL)
|Liam Sceats (NZL)
|Patrick Woods Toth (CAN)
|Gerrard Xie (CHN)
|Tommy Smith (AUS)
|Michael Shin (KOR)
|Nicola Lacorte (ITA)
|Elliott Cleary (Aus)
|Lucas Fecury (BRA)
|Landan Matriano Lim (USA)
|Titus Sherlock (USA)
|Alex Crosbie (NZL)
|Jett Bowling (USA)
|Jake Bonilla (USA)
|Kaleb Ngatoa (NZL)
|Kaden Probst (NZL)