Battle between the aces on the cards for Christchurch
An epic final race at the third round has set up this weekend’s fourth round of the 2024 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship to be an absolute classic.
Ten drivers have made it to the podium in nine races so far, and this weekend the five round back to back championship heads to the South Island of New Zealand and the penultimate round at the Euromarque Motorsport Park – formerly Ruapuna Park.
It’ll be game on for the chasing pack to try and catch runaway series leader Roman Bilinski. The London-based Polish driver won one race at the last round at Hampton Downs for team M2 Competition to take his tally to five but he was defeated fairly and squarely by Kiwi Kaleb Ngatoa in the final feature race of the weekend.
With six races left the top two Kiwis – Bilinski’s team mate Liam Sceats and Giles Motorsport’s Ngatoa, will have to pull out all the stops to try and secure the title and the international recognition and FIA Super Licence points it will bring.
Sceats – yet to win – sits 50 points behind Bilinski while Ngatoa’s big win propelled him to third – 83 behind. Bilinski certainly enjoyed an early season advantage with his knowledge and experience on the Pirelli tyre, but the others just might be catching up now. The Christchurch track will present all the drivers with another challenge in tyre management over the weekend and if Bilinski can come away with his points lead intact, he will have one hand on the 2024 championship trophy.
While the top three focus on the championship itself, further back there is plenty at stake for those hunting down their first win or even podium. There are 18 Super Licence points to the champion but they are awarded all the way back to tenth and are a valuable currency for any driver looking to progress – particularly in Europe or the USA.
Tommy Smith – currently sitting fourth in the points – misses this round as he is testing in the FIA F3 official test. But he’s impressed enough that he could well be back for one more swing of the bat in this year’s championship at the final round – the 68th New Zealand Grand Prix.
Behind him, Rookie Series points leader Patrick Woods-Toth has been getting steadily closer to the front of the field as his prodigious talent unlocks the secrets of a Formula Regional car and the Pirelli tyres – both new to the Canadian F4 US champion this season. Expect that form to be even better this weekend. Michael Shin has plenty of speed and showed that he can race at the front at Hampton Downs. Much like Woods-Toth, he could be a factor this coming weekend.
Kiwis Alex Crosbie and Kaden Probst have had their moments so far in this championship and have established themselves as solid mid field runners with enough pace to get near the front when the situation allows. With just two rounds to go they too will be looking to make the most of their first international campaigns.
Gerrard Xie has been fast too and will hopefully have put his sizeable Hampton Downs off behind him and can continue where he left off which is challenging at the front of the field. Titus Sherlock has been there or thereabouts throughout the championship so far and will be keen to push his Brawn-esque liveried car towards the front in Christchurch.
Don’t be too surprised either if Elliott Cleary, Lucas Fecury and Landan Matriano-Lim continue their progress and score a surprise decent result too. They look odds on to do so in the final phase of the championship having scored top ten finishes on numerous occasions.
US racers Jake Bonilla and Jett Bowling will be joined by yet another young racer out of the USA competing in the final two rounds of the championship – Bryce Aron.
A Team USA scholarship award winner and INDY NXT driver for Andretti Global, Bryce put his name in the history books when he became the first American ever to place in the top five at both the Walter Hayes Trophy (third) and the iconic Formula Ford Festival (fifth) in Britain. It’s going to be a busy 2024 for the young racer. Once Aron is finished in New Zealand, he’ll head back to the USA to prepare for the INDY NXT championship with Andretti Global.
And he’s not alone. INDY NXT racer Jacob Abel, third in the 2023 championship, makes a welcome return to New Zealand for the final two rounds of 2024 as he prepares for his third, and most important, season in the USA so far. It’s great kudos for the NZ championship organisers that a racer focussed on getting to Indycar and winning the Indy 500 views six races in New Zealand as a big part of his season preparation.
Unofficial testing takes place on Thursday, with official practice Friday, qualifying and the first race on Saturday then Race 2 and qualifying and the feature race – for the iconic Lady Wigram Trophy – on Sunday afternoon.