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Impressive Ngatoa tops Friday testing at NZ Grand Prix

Local boy Kaleb Ngatoa was the man who turned the most heads on an interrupted day of testing ahead of this weekend’s 67thNew Zealand Grand Prix – the penultimate round of the 2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship.

Wild weather that had affected New Zealand’s North Island over the previous week was still around and the third of the day’s scheduled test sessions was washed out. That left Ngatoa – who is racing inly in this weekend’s event – top of the times after a blistering lap in the second session, the only fully dry one of the day.

The first session wasn’t ideal either and gave the drivers some challenging damp – but not fully wet -conditions and it caught one or two out in the early stages.

Callum Hedge showed his prowess and knowledge of the circuit with the fastest time but topped the times by a scant nine thousandths of a second from Laurens van Hoepen who joins the championship for the final two rounds this weekend.

Championship leader Charlie Wurz maintained his consistency with third fastest, while Louis Foster was next up ahead of Ryder Quinn, Manfeild feature race winner James Penrose, Jacob Abel, Ngatoa and Brendon Leitch. Impressive Kiwi youngster in this year’s championship, Liam Sceats, rounded out the top ten.

Ngatoa came alive in the second session of the day – just before the rain came – lapping almost four tenths faster than Louis Foster and becoming the only driver to go under 1 minute 30 seconds for the session.

“We’re just working on set-up and making small gains here and there and we’ll continue that process as we build towards qualifying,” said the Marton-based racer after the session.

Two years after his sensational pole position and after a season of bulking up driving the Australia S5000 cars, Ngatoa could be a strong bet for what is sure to be a very physical 28 laps around the long circuit in the Grand Prix itself on Sunday. “It’s going to be a tough weekend on the arms and upper bodies for sure,” he added. “I’m more than ready for that.”

Jacob Abel clocked third fastest time just a hundredth behind Foster while van Hoepen continued his eye-catching debut in the championship with fifth. They were followed by Leitch, who looked impressively fast throughout the session, Wurz, Hedge, Quinn and Penrose, up there yet again in the top ten.

Missing from the action for the rest of the day was Australian Tom McLennan. He drove on Thursday and in Friday morning’s first session but aggravated a wrist injury and on doctor’s advice sat out the rest of the day’s sessions. He’ll be hoping to be fit for the weekend’s action.

That action begins on Saturday morning with the F1-style qualifying shoot out which will divided into three stages with the final stage a 12-minute gun fight between the fastest eight to decide who takes pole position for New Zealand’s 67th Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.

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