No van Hoepen for rivals as Flying Dutchman dominates NZ Grand Prix
With barely a week in New Zealand under his belt, rising Dutch star Laurens van Hoepen left his rivals in his tracks as he dominated the 67th New Zealand Grand Prix – race 12 in the 2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship – at Hampton Downs this afternoon.
Only British ace Louis Foster – a champion in the USA in the Indy Pro 2000 series – could offer any opposition to the M2 Competition driver, who took pole position, the race’s fastest lap and the iconic New Zealand Motor Cup Trophy in style.
Foster passed van Hoepen at the start but a bold move down the inside of turn two saw the 17 year old take the lead and dominate from that moment on. He eventually beat Foster to the flag by a second or so, and the rest of the field were more than 12 seconds behind at the flag.
Behind Foster, the top Kiwi was championship contender Callum Hedge, with veteran Chris van der Drift a fighting fourth after a great drive from ninth on the grid of 19 cars. Hedge had a solid enough race in third and most importantly beat championship rival Charlie Wurz, who finished further back the field in seventh.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Flying Dutchman van Hoepen at the front, however, as 28 times around Hampton Downs International track layout – a twisty and up and down 3.8km lap – drained him and rest in a gruelling race.
“I am really, really happy and it was such a tough race, especially the last five laps or so,” he said after the race.
“I was struggling to hold the steering wheel towards the end but I think we’ve done a really good job over the weekend. I didn’t slide around too much, I had a bit of wheel spin but we managed to stay more or less in the traction zones and were able to manage the tyres pretty well.”
Fifth was a disappointed Kaleb Ngatoa. He didn’t make quite as good a start as he did when he won Saturday’s race and got stuck behind Hedge for the majority of the race. Frustration crept in towards the end as he tried to force the issue and get past Hedge, but a few wild moments and mild contact with Callum as he tried a pass on the downhill sweeper served only to leave the door open for van der Drift and the wild card was ready and willing to take the place.
At 36 van der Drift put in perhaps the most impressive performance of the eight Kiwis in the field. After changing the set up of his car in the morning, and benefitting from new tyres for the race, the Hamilton-based driver took the fight to the younger drivers ahead and was even having a look at a way around Hedge towards the end.
In a championship battle already on a knife-edge, all eyes were on Hedge and whether he could turn around the disappointment of a retirement in the morning’s race – where he lost his slender lead in the championship to Wurz. A race he often talks about wanting to win above most others, Callum had no choice but to play the long game for points in the GP when the leaders ahead raced off into the distance.
“It was quite tough for me after the morning,” he explained afterwards. “The goal with the race was just to survive and make it to the end. Third place wasn’t the win in the Grand Prix that I wanted but to be the top Kiwi was really cool. I felt the frustrations of the morning crept into my driving a little and I made a few mistakes, but I’m just going to focus now on looking forward to next weekend at Taupo.”
Championship rival Charlie Wurz had a quiet afternoon, tracking Kiwi rising star Liam Sceats from the start to the finish and never really looking like he would make a challenge. Once the results were confirmed and the points awarded, the two drivers head to the final round of this season’s championship at Taupo next weekend with Wurz on 270 just 10 points ahead of Hedge.
Jacob Abel – who currently sits in third place in the championship, came home eighth just half a second behind Wurz while American David Morales was a second or so behind him in ninth with Australian Ryder Quinn rounding out the top ten.