Bilinski walks on water to second Manfeild win
Roman Bilinski showed he is a master of the wet weather as well as the dry at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, dominating a shortened Dan Higgins Trophy race, the feature race of the second weekend of the 2024 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship.
It cemented the Polish M2 Competition racer at the front of the points table in this year’s championship, and he was delighted to win in the challenging New Zealand weather.
“Christian at the start was really fast,” said Bilinski in the post-race interview. “We traded fastest laps and he made it really difficult for me but it’s great to get the win. It was the right decision to stop the race as it was just too slippery out there but I am so pleased to win again.
“The team have given me a great car but we still need to push. There are three more rounds to go and everything is still up for grabs.”
Bilinski got away well from pole position and although it looked like Christian Mansell might beat him to the first corner it was Bilinski who emerged in front. Slightly further back Michael Shin and Nicolas Lacorte made contact at the infield hairpin. Both made contact with the wall and were instant retirements. A red flag period followed while the track was cleaned up and the cars would restart in single file under Safety Car conditions.
The race got back underway on lap 5 and it was Bilinski who made the best start in incredibly slippery conditions, which were worsening all the time as the rain continued to fall.
Mansell – in the last of his six races in this year’s championship – pushed him hard but within a lap of racing Roman had built a lead of 1.3 seconds and Mansell was forced to turn his attention to countryman Tommy Smith, giving chase less than a second behind.
In the battle of the Kiwis, which had raged all weekend between Giles Motorsport’s Kaleb Ngatoa and M2 Competition’s Liam Sceats, it was Liam who got ahead of Ngatoa and those two held fourth and fifth early on ahead of Patrick Woods-Toth, Alex Crosbie, Titus Sherlock, Jett Bowling and a flying Lucas Fecury who was making good progress through the field in the tough conditions.
Woods-Toth caught Ngatoa quickly and by lap 10 was right on his tail while a few metres further up the track, Sceats too was going well and bearing down on Smith in third. Liam made an attempt to pass around Higgins on the outside on lap 11, failing narrowly.
With ten laps to go Mansell started to catch the leader, halving the gap to Roman to just over a second.
As the conditions deteriorated further Smith spun through 360 degrees on the infield on lap 20 and it allowed Sceats to splash through and take third position. Smith recovered but conditions were becoming treacherous, and the Safety Car came out on lap 21.
With the rain continuing to fall, officials finished the race under the Safety Car and Bilinski took his second win of the weekend to extend his championship lead. The red flag came out at the end of lap 21 of 27 and that was that.
Behind winner Bilinski, Mansell fought hard but had to be satisfied with second place. There was some consolation for the young Aussie, however, as he took out the Tasman Cup – a new addition to the championship but an old trophy with some big Australian and Kiwi names on it.
Sceats drove well for another third-place finish, while Smith hung on for fourth. Ngatoa held off Woods-Toth for fifth, while Crosbie made the best of a challenging weekend with seventh. Sherlock, Bowling and Cleary completed the top ten.
A notable performance came from Gerrard Xie, who was brave enough to go out on slicks for the start in the hope the rain would hold off. It didn’t and he was forced to make a stop for full wet weather Pirellis. He made it to the end, bringing up the rear of the 15 finishers.
The championship remains on New Zealand’s North Island for its third round, which is at Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park over next weekend. Bilinski, of course, will be looking to really put some distance between himself and his rivals in the points chase for the 2024 title.