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Bilinski stamps authority on 300th Toyota series race

Roman Bilinski continued his dominant race form in the 2024 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship, winning easily in the first race of the weekend at Manfeild – Circuit Chris Amon.

In doing so he won the category’s 300th race. The Toyota-based championship first began in 2005. Brendon Hartley was the first winner, and the championship has seen literally hundreds of high-quality drivers graduate from its ranks in the 19 seasons since.

More than 20 have made it to F1 practice or Grands Prix and many more have excelled in Indycar, WEC, Formula E, Supercars, GT racing and much more besides.

Bilinski made easy work of the race, rocketing away from pole position, and winning as he pleased after Christian Mansell hit trouble on lap five and dropped from second to tenth.

That left the Polish sensation completely in charge of the race with only Alpine Junior Nicola Lacorte in sight. The young Italian did charge hard in the second half of the race, especially when the rain started to fall but it was only momentarily and Bilinski raced away to win by almost four seconds.

“It did not feel easy, especially with the wind and the rain,” said Roman afterwards.

“I had a bit of pressure early on from Christian but unfortunately, he had a problem. I then had Nico close enough that I could not relax, and it was tricky. Winged cars are really affected by wind, so I am very happy to get the win and happy that my two teammates are second and third.”

Second placed Lacorte and third placed Liam Sceats made it a 1-2-3 for M2 Competition. Ngatoa was a solid fourth, unable to challenge Sceats despite having him under pressure throughout, but he did manage to fend off a charging Mansell who fought his way back from tenth to fifth and just missed out on fourth when he locked up going into turn one while attempting a pass on the Kiwi.

Once Bilinski and Lacorte had built their impressive lead on the field, most of the attention was on the battle behind which at one stage stretched from third place to tenth. It probably wasn’t good news for Mansell after his brief problem, but he fought his way through impressively, nonetheless.

Tommy Smith fought hard for his sixth place, while Michael Shin, Gerrard Xie, Patrick Woods-Toth and Alex Crosbie rounded out the top ten, Crosbie particularly benefitting from a first lap incident on the circuit’s notorious infield section which sent cars off left, right and centre. Crosbie made the most of it while Kiwi Motorsport’s Titus Sherlock got the worst of it, dropping way back into the pack from eighth on the grid.

After Bilinski’s history-making moment, it’s back to business for the FIA junior championship on Sunday with qualifying for the feature race, the partial reverse grid Race 2, and the feature race itself – for the Dan Higgins Trophy – in the afternoon at the Manawatu circuit.

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