Lacorte scores first CTFROC win
Alpine F1 Junior Nicola Lacorte opened his winners account in the 2024 Castrol Toyota FR Oceania Championship with a lights to flag victory in the second race of the weekend at Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park.
The 16-year-old made the most of his tyres and the battles going on behind him to win in style. “It was a good race. I enjoyed the race. We did good work on Friday and it’s great to see that come into play today. We had good pace, enough to win,” he said afterwards.
A crash on the last lap brought proceedings to an early end, Chinese F4 champion Gerrard Xie hitting the tyre barriers after contact with Patrick Woods-Toth. Michael Shin was a solid second and championship leader Roman Bilinski weaved his magic again to move through the field to take another podium in third and increase his championship lead even further.
The grid was formed based on the results of the first race on Saturday but the first eight places were reversed to give the front four rows. That meant promising Australian 17-year-old Elliott Clearly would start on pole position alongside Lacorte on the front row.
Light winds and a warm track made for perfect conditions compared with the wild weather of Saturday at Hampton Downs and at the lights it was Lacorte who won the drag race to the first turn. Michael Shin also got away well and was alongside the Italian immediately. Lacorte found a few car lengths over the course of the first lap whilst a great battle was raging behind him as the field tried to gain as much momentum as possible early on.
At the end of lap 1 it was Lacorte from Shin, Xie, Woods-Toth, Liam Sceats, Cleary, Bilinski, Tommy Smith, Lucas Fecury and Titus Sherlock.
Lacorte was unable to build too much of lead early on – despite using newer tyres from the morning qualifying for the feature race – though the early breakaway group was limited to the top four. Behind them the main battle group included champion ship leader Bilinski and Sceats, with Kaleb Ngatoa making solid progress from the back and well into the mid field by lap three.
In the top four Woods-Toth had plenty of early pace and passed Xie for third on lap three. Further back, a big traffic jam was building behind Cleary and he was quickly displaced by both Bilinski and Sceats, who were fighting their own battle and trading fastest laps – and lap records – in the opening half of the race.
Woods-Toth closed rapidly on Lacorte and Shin but was unable to progress after that. Behind them, Bilinski and Sceats were also closing in on Xie in third place. Ngatoa was making impressive progress through the field and by lap eight was right on the tail of seventh-placed Cleary. A clinical move on lap 9 saw him pass Elliott at turn two and the Kiwi immediately pulled away as he set about catching Sceats in sixth.
By now Bilinski had turned the four car train for the lead into a five car one and that was soon to be a six car train as Sceats joined the party. Bilinski piled on the pressure on Xie but couldn’t find a way past, despite plenty of lockups from Gerrard as he fought off the Polish ace. This allowed Sceats to close up in sixth. Ngatoa was barrelling along nicely in seventh but with a decent gap to Liam.
With four to go Bilinski finally found a way around the hard-charging Xie and immediately targeted a slowing Woods-Toth. The Canadian did put up a robust defence but the championship leader found his way by with two laps to go with another display of his considerable overtaking skills around the outside.
At the front, Lacorte’s fresher tyres slowly came into their own in the second half and the youngster only had Shin to manage in second as he built an insurmountable gap to the battle for third.
As the laps counted down attention turned to the battle for third and on the last lap Xie tried to pass Woods-Toth and the Chinese racer went for an ambitious move down the inside of turn 2. It turned out to be a little too ambitious. Contact was made and wild ride ended in the tyres. His mechanics at M2 Competition would have plenty to do before the afternoon’s feature race.
At the flag it was Lacorte from Shin, Bilinski, Woods-Toth, Xie was classified fifth on the countback with Sceats sixth, Ngatoa a fine seventh from the back of the grid, Cleary eighth with Smith and Alex Crosbie in ninth and tenth.