The NZ Grand weekend, a recipe for single seater success

| Photographer Credit: Terry Marshall/Euan Cameron Photography

The 68th running of the New Zealand Grand Prix (NZGP) has concluded and Liam Sceats’ name is on the trophy.  It has been a successful weekend with all the right ingredients.  Talent always rises to the top and Roman Bilinski showed he is head and shoulders above the rest of the field and a worthy 2024 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania champion.

The weekend started with some unexpected drama in the first of three elimination qualifying sessions when Bilinski went off the circuit causing a red flag.  Having set the fastest time for Race 1, this was to drop him three grid places after a penalty was applied and place him 13th for the NZGP starting lineup. (He would start 12th with Ngatoa’s withdrawal).

Meanwhile, rival Sceats set pole for Race 1 and pole for the NZ Grand Prix (with Race 2 being a Reverse top-eight from Race 1 results).

At the end of the second qualifying session two others hit the wall heading towards the start/finish line which saw third overall, Kaleb Ngatoa heading to hospital to find he had a broken hand and would not take the start line, losing his third overall position.

Heading into the weekend Bilinski was 56-points ahead of second placed Liam Sceats and his championship to lose. 

It was always going to be difficult for Sceats to win and his eye appeared to be more on winning the NZ Grand Prix, the weekend after he had won the Lady Wigram Trophy race in Christchurch.

Sceats was on a roll having won the last race held in Christchurch and the Lady Wigram Trophy.  His momentum from setting pole saw him get off the line first in the opening Race 1, holding the lead to the chequered flag.  And that is where it ended.

If Sceats won Race 2, Bilinski only needed to finish in ninth to clinch the championship with one race to go.    Sceats got bogged soon after leaving the line and dropped to ninth where he remained for the rest of the race while Bilinski moved up to fourth and set out to haul the leaders in, even though he didn’t need to.  In finishing third, why take the risk?

“I’m a racing driver at the end of the day and I want to get the best position possible,” commented Bilinski.   “I guess you could say its risky but I had great fun and hope I put on a good show for everyone and tried my best.

“There’s a risk factor which I was managing and not taking anything too risky.  If there was a high speed corner I was backing off.”

Liam Sceats, 2024 NZ Grand Prix winner – photo Euan Cameron

Sceats got away ahead of Hedge right at the beginning of the 27-laps of the Grand Prix and held the lead until the chequered flag.  While Hedge held a close second for over half the race, he admitted later that he just didn’t have the experience of the Pirelli tyre.

For Sceats, his success is having two prestigious NZ trophies in his cabinet.

“Half the goal this year was to win the Grand Prix,” said Sceats.  “I think I came into this weekend with the right mind set and confidence having won the Lady Wigram last weekend.  I knew as the season went on that we would get stronger and stronger as I got to know the tyres.  This competition is not easy as there are many very good drivers.”

A key advantage that Sceats first displayed in Christchurch was his ability to get off the line ahead of those around him.  For the Lady Wigram Trophy race it was this advantage that got him ahead of Bilinski and the win.

He repeated this in Race 1 at Highlands and again for the NZ Grand Prix.

“It’s a strength I had last season as well.  I’m not sure why but it is a knack I’ve got and a good one to have as the starts are very important.”

Bilinski moved up to seventh within a short space of time after passing six other drivers and appeared to have used up any tyre advantage he had.  Unfortunately for him a wayward Bryce Aron hit the wall shortly before the finish. Following closely behind, Bilinski had nowhere to go and clipped the back of Aron’s car becoming airborne over Aron’s car. Both drivers walked away albeit a bit sore.

The 2024 NZ Grand Prix will be remembered for all the right reasons. It had drama, some top racing, a worthy crowned champion and a superb race for the Grand Prix trophy.

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

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