Australian rising star Christian Mansell started his 2024 season in style by taking a victory and four podium finishes across two Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship events in New Zealand, also adding his name to the Trans Tasman Trophy.
The 18-year-old, who will compete in FIA Formula 3 for his second full season, joined up with Giles Motorsport in New Zealand to participate in the opening two rounds of the Formula Regional Oceania Championship for six races, held at Taupo International Motorsport Park and Manfeild - Circuit Chris Amon.
It would prove to be valuable experience ahead of the coming campaign, as the youngster from Newcastle, South Wales, left Manfeild with his name alongside the likes of Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham as winners of the Trans Tasman Trophy for his performances.
Taupo was the first stop for Mansell, flying the flag for sponsor Castrol as well as his fellow backers including AJM Transport, Castrol, Vawdrey Trailers and Sargeant. After setting record-breaking pace in testing and free practice, Mansell wrung the neck of his Toyota FT60 to put his car on pole position for the first of three races that weekend - a feat he again achieved a day later to outline his electric speed.
Mansell battled hard with former GB3 Championship rival Roman Bilinski in the opening race, chasing in the opening laps before settling into second place as tyres began to fall away in the second half of the contest. Sunday's second race featured a top-eight reverse grid, Mansell unfortunately caught up in an incident late on with Kaleb Ngatoa during his charge.
A sensational jump from fifth on the grid - recovering from a four-place grid drop - propelled him to the outside of the circuit where supreme late-braking moved him up into second place in race three. He then made his move for the lead with another brave pass under braking for the final complex, however after staying in front for many laps, he slipped to second late on - adding a second podium to his tally before heading to Manfeild.
In the second and final weekend, and Mansell - backed by Infinity Sports Management, IOR Petroleum and AMSL Diabetes Australia - secured a front row start for race one. Eyeing the lead early on, unfortunately his car slowed for several seconds with a brief electrical issue, dropping him to seventh place. He fought back in fine style however, diving to the inside on Gerrard Xie for sixth spot and then performing a neat cutback to the inside of Tommy Smith moments later to seal a top-five finish.
On Sunday however, the weather threw an additional curveball into proceedings and it played perfectly into the hands of wet-weather specialist Mansell. Starting fourth on the reverse grid, he shot into second place with a healthy launch. Moments later, he took the lead from a spinning Xie, controlling the race from the front in drying conditions to bag his first FR Oceania race win.
Another strong qualifying had assured a front row start for the final race, and worsening conditions began to suit the Australian in his pursuit of Bilinski for a potential second victory of the day. Officials however decided to halt the race with three laps remaining due to the unrelenting rain, but second for Mansell was enough to leave with the prestigious Trans Tasman Trophy for his efforts on New Zealand soil.
Mansell now returns to FIA Formula 3 action as official testing begins in Bahrain with his new team - ART Grand Prix - ahead of the new season which kicks off in the opening week of March.
Christian Mansell: "A massive thank you to Castrol and Giles Motorsport for giving me the chance to go racing in Formula Regional and get some racing miles in the tank before the new F3 season gets going. I had a blast in these Toyota FT60 cars and I think we showed we were there to compete with four podiums and a race win.
"We came so close in Taupo after some great battles with Roman, and two pole positions there were a pretty nice feeling, but then we had a really fast car at Manfeild and to get a win felt great.
"On Sunday the team made sure the car was good in the rain and I thought there were a lot of very mature decisions made by officials because, for me, in those conditions it's all about safety. I was advocating for those decisions to be made in the car as when I got close to the leader you then couldn't see anything.
"I've had some great results and enjoyed racing in New Zealand a lot, and now looking forward to getting back to ART Grand Prix for F3 testing in Bahrain ahead of the new season."
Image from Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand.