Bilinski masterclass at Taupo gives Roman first win in CTFROC
Poland’s Roman Bilinski showed he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in his M2 Competition entry in this season’s Castrol Toyota FR Oceania Championship after dominating the first race at the Taupo International Motorsport Park this afternoon.
Bilinski (19) – who raced in the Formula Regional European Championship in 2022 and 2023 – took an early lead from the front row of the grid, kept it after an early Safety Car restart and then simply drove away from a class field to take Saturday’s race win by a full six seconds.
“I am very happy to take that win and I must say a big thank you to the boys and girls at M2 Competition,” said the delighted youngster afterwards. “We have worked really hard so far together and to come out of it with this first victory is really great.
“It has been an amazing experience so far in New Zealand and I’m loving it. I don’t know how good my tyres will be tomorrow but I’m looking forward to it.”
Behind the dominant Bilinski, Mansell cruised home for the runner-up spot while a great battle for third ultimately went the way of Korean ace Michael Shin, with Kaleb Ngatoa the top Kiwi in fourth place ahead of fellow countryman Liam Sceats.
An earlier downpour left the track wet and despite the best efforts of the historic Formula 5000s to shift the water in the previous race, the 17 drivers in the first race of the 2024 Castrol Toyota FR Oceania season were presented with a very soggy Taupo track surface.
It left something of a dilemma for drivers on tyre choice but the whole field apart from Jake Bonilla opted for slicks on the drying track.
It made for a challenging start and as the lights went out it was Bilinski who made the most of the available grip to lead out of turn one while Mansell had plenty of wheelspin as he tried to get his race underway and was forced into second.
There was contact at the back of the grid at the start however, and this brought out the yellow flag to remove the stranded car of Alpine Junior Nicola Lacorte. Nicola had trouble getting off the start and was hit by a faster starting Landan Matriano who had done his best to avoid contact. Both headed to the pits for repairs as the Safety Car led the field around for the restart.
Mansell and Bilinski duelled all the way around the lap and the two pulled away from the rest almost immediately, while Shin and Ngatoa enjoyed a fierce early battle for third and fourth that brought plenty of audible gasps from the spectators as Ngatoa fought for a way by.
Those early laps saw Mansell try everything he could to get past Bilinski – he certainly had the superior pace early on – and both drivers were able to increase the gap to the field behind easily.
At the halfway point in the 18 lap race Mansell made a small error and Bilinski made his move and started to build a gap on his pursuer, who in turn was followed by Shin, Ngatoa, Liam Sceats, Gerrard Xie, Tommy Smith, Alex Crosbie, a flying Patrick Woods-Toth from the back of the grid and Kaden Probst.
As Bilinski raced away impressively, the attention of the fans switched to the battle for the final place on the podium, as the pack behind Shin grew and grew. Michael, however, had a strong second half of the race up his sleeve and was able to push away from Ngatoa and the rest in the final few laps as the track dried. The two leaders, however, were simply in a class of their own and too far ahead for him to make an impression.
Behind the top five, Xie came home a solid sixth, with Smith in seventh, Crosbie in eighth, an impressive series returnee Lucas Fecury in ninth and Australian Elliott Cleary taking a top ten on debut. Woods-Toth’s impressive run came to an end at the end of lap 12 when he was struck by mechanical issues.
Sunday morning’s second race will see a grid formed from the top eight finishers in today’s opener, with eighth and seventh placed finishers Crosbie and Smith starting first and second respectively.