Highlands all set for landmark Grand Prix weekend

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The 68th New Zealand Grand Prix – running for the first time at the spectacular Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, NZ – is all set to provide a fitting setting for the climax of this year’s enthralling Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship.

The championship so far – after four of five back-to-back weekends – has been all about rising Polish star Roman Bilinski.

With plenty of knowledge of the Pirelli tyre being used for the first time in the New Zealand championship, he has taken to the Toyota FT-60 car and the challenges of the Kiwi tracks like a duck to water and has won six races from the 12 completed so far.

Despite that, he’s far from home and dry to the 18 FIA Super Licence points that are offered by the championship to its winning driver, a vital currency for anyone targeting the upper levels of global single seater racing.

He sits just 56 points ahead of Kiwi Liam Sceats, and after a big win in the Lady Wigram Trophy race last weekend, Sceats will be confident and at his absolute best this weekend. Bilinski knows that and cannot afford any mistakes if he is to secure a championship which he laid a claim to from the very first race last month in Taupo.

The Grand Prix this weekend – also the first in New Zealand’s South Island since 2007 – has attracted several interesting wild cars who have come into the championship for the last couple of rounds or indeed just for the Grand Prix. They are interesting because they could well feature this weekend in Cromwell.

Jacob Abel is a rising star in US single seaters and is competing well currently in INDY NXT. The only step up after that is to Indycar and Abel has the talent to do that. Immediately on the pace in his 2024 debut weekend at round four in Christchurch, he is fast and races hard.

He has Highlands experience from 2023 when he finished third overall in the championship. Bilinski, Sceats and the rest of those at the pointy end of the points table can fully expect him to be a threat in every session and indeed a potential Grand Prix winner. 

Countryman Bryce Aron is another high calibre US racer competing at the last two rounds. Highly regarded in the US motorsport scene and a contracted driver to the Andretti Global empire, he was very fast on his first weekend but lacked time in the car compared to his rivals and it showed. With a few hundred more kilometres under his belt, it is inevitable he will also be competitive this weekend.

There are also plenty of drivers with something to prove this weekend, and those that can salvage something big with a win in an FIA-sanctioned Grand Prix event.

Kaleb Ngatoa currently sits third in the points for Giles Motorsport and has Patrick Woods-Toth breathing down his neck in the points table. The Canadian had an unlucky start to the championship but has been getting stronger and stronger ever since. His form has been somewhat overshadowed by Bilinski and Sceats, particularly as he is still a Rookie and leads the Rookie points battle.

Perhaps Highlands will see him end the season on a high. A win in either of the three races this weekend, or more, would not be a surprise.

Ngatoa has a win to his credit but would have hoped for more in this championship and is likely focussed on taking out the GP and adding his name to the iconic New Zealand Motor Cup, one of the country’s oldest sporting trophies and being awarded in the South Island for the very first time.

Of the rest, Michael Shin and Gerrard Xie have both won races while Alex Crosbie and Jett Bowling could be good outside bets for strong results. Titus Sherlock – a star performer in F4 United States last season – will also be looking to end his season on a high.

And what of Ryder Quinn? A strong performer in the championship last season, he went well on his CTFROC debut in 2023 – at Highlands.  The circuit is owned by his grandfather Tony Quinn and for the family it is an historic and huge weekend that has been a goal for more than a decade since Quinn purchased and completed the Highlands facility. An historic Grand Prix win to complete the dream? Not impossible.

It all begins on Thursday with testing, before Friday brings official practice. Saturday morning will see qualifying and the first race. There is only one qualifying session for the weekend and it will include Race 1 and Grand Prix qualifying.

Grand Prix qualifying will follow a similar format to that used in F1. There will be one qualifying session on the Saturday morning. This session will be divided into three segments. In the first 15 minutes of the session everyone will run and their best times will form the grid order for race one. The bottom five’s positions will be their starting places on the GP grid

In the second segment, the top 13 cars from the first timed portion will go on track for ten minutes. The slowest five from that second session will occupy grid places 9-13.The fastest eight will then go out for the final session and will be timed for the first eight places on the grid.


2024 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship certified by FIA – Points after R4