Callum Hedge takes first FROC race win
Callum Hedge came of age in international single seaters today with a dominant win in the first round of the 2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship at the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, New Zealand.
The 18 year old from Pukekohe converted a very impressive pole position into a lights-to-flag win for M2 Competition and got his championship challenge off to the best possible start, bringing back memories of another young Kiwi, Liam Lawson, doing much the same in 2019 on his way to the championship title and a Red Bull Junior contract.
Hedge won the New Zealand Formula Ford title in 2018, the 2018-2019 Toyota 86 Championship and has impressed in Australia too, finishing fourth in the Formula Ford Championship there in 2019 before switching to tin tops and Porsches in particular. He never lost his love of single seaters and caught the eye with a one-off drive in the 2021 Formula Regional European Championship finale at Monza. With motorsport in New Zealand severely affected by pandemic travel restrictions in and out of the country over the past three years, Callum has had to wait for his moment in single seaters, but at Highlands finally had the chance to show the world what he is capable of.
“It’s fantastic to win and finish off a good day. I was feeling pretty comfortable with the car but I felt that I had to go very hard from the start and I spent the warm up laps really working the tyres hard to ensure they would be ready.”
And ready they were, as Hedge streaked away from the field pounding out fastest lap after fastest lap, leaving Charlie Wurz, David Morales and the rest firmly in his mirrors. A half second lead at the end of the first lap was quickly increased to a two and a half second gap to Wurz after three laps. The only blip on the radar came late in the race when Ryan Shehan went off and brought out a Safety Car. The clean up was quick, but not enough to avoid the race finishing under the Safety Car and any risk of a one lap sprint to the flag was averted.
It was a perfect start for Hedge. Pole position, the race win and the fastest lap, which was a record for the Toyota Ft-60 as well, eclipsing the best from 2020 when the cars last raced at Highlands.
Wurz, son of F1 racer Alexander Wurz, was happy enough with his performance and made the best start in the entire field, moving quickly from fourth on the grid to the back of the leader’s gearbox. “Small changes in how you start can make big differences to your speed at the start,” he said afterwards. “I got it right this time and I had to lift off I was gaining on Callum so much at the first corner.”
Silky smooth through the challenging turns and brave over Highland’s notorious bridge section, there was nevertheless nothing Wurz could do about the leader, instead focussing on tyre management for the Sunday races when at some stage the Saturday set of tyres needs to be used again.
That tyre management process probably gave third placed American David Morales something of a false hope of catching and passing the Austrian. It certainly looked like the Florida driver could mount a serious challenge in the final few laps, especially before the Safety Car. Morales, however, felt the start of the race had cost him dear. “The car had plenty of pace of course, but I wasn’t at all happy with my start. Charlie made a great start and that didn’t help. Despite that though, I’m very happy with how the race went and the lap times we were able to produce. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Behind the top three, the main area of interest was in a decent battle for the lower top ten places that featured Kiwi Motorsport’s Josh Mason, Liam Sceats, Ryan Shehan, Jacob Abel and Ryder Quinn. Mason enjoyed a solid enough race after his baptism of fire to the championship on Friday morning when he first damaged a chassis on a kerb and then wiped a rear corner off later in the day. He bounced back Friday with a fast time in the final test session, then qualified and raced well despite not having the total track time under his belt of his rivals. He could be well satisfied with his fourth place finish.
Sceats, fresh out of New Zealand Formula Ford was another young Kiwi to impress on Day 1 of the championship, driving with both pace and patience and not doing anything reckless on his way to a fifth place finish on his championship debut. Shehan and Abel produced the best battle of all, the two US rivals trying every part of the track as they sought to pass and defend their positions. Shehan however, pushed just a little too hard in his defence of a decent finishing spot, got loose at the Southern Loop with three laps to go, over corrected and made solid contact with the unforgiving Highlands walls. That was the end of his race and it was left to Abel to pick up the pieces and come home sixth.
After a super impressive day on Friday, Ryder Quinn had a more modest opening day of competition. In the race he lost a few places early on, but kept his head and moved onto the back of the mid-field pack, racing with plenty of pace as he harried Abel late on. Seventh was his reward and there’s likely more to come as his team suggested afterwards.
Castrol ambassador James Penrose brought his Toyota FT-60 home in eighth after an eventful race where his mirrors were full of a charging Chole Chambers, the former W Series racer demonstrating her considerable ability in a field of quality drivers. Brazil’s Lucas Fecury was next up, finishing 11th after starting the race from pitlane. Tom McLennan had a challenging start to his campaign, the Australian unable to select a gear on the dummy grid. He was pushed into the pit lane by his mechanics who got him into the race, albeit from pit lane behind Fecury. The second woman in the race Bree Morris came home 12th.
Sunday will bring a second 15 minute qualifying session and two more races, including the afternoon’s feature race for the Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup trophy.