Three different winners but Wurz leads them all
The first round of the 2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship got underway in style over the weekend as a new era began in single seater racing in New Zealand.
The first twists and turns of the championship played out around the challenging and unique Highlands Motorsport Park and produced three different winners from three different races.
Kiwis Callum Hedge and James Penrose won the first two instalments, but it was American David Morales who took the chequered flag first in the longer and more valuable Sunday feature race.
None of the winners, however, could match the overall consistency over the weekend of Austrian Charlie Wurz whose run of strong results – two second place finishes and a fourth – puts him ahead as the championship moves south to Invercargill’s Teretonga Park Raceway this coming weekend.
Wurz, one of the big names in the championship this season, was smooth and fast all weekend in Cromwell, with only one mistake in the final race giving him a trip through the gravel. Even that didn’t cost him a place. He was quick from the word go too and like the other front runners was near the front every time the cars took to the 4.1km track. A win will also surely come sooner rather than later.
In a championship where scoring consistently is the name of the game, Callum Hedge will be kicking himself this week for using Highlands’ kerbs a little too much in his chase of Morales during the feature race. The two were seconds ahead of the field and it looked only a matter of time before Hedge showed more of his prodigious speed and moved through to lead, but it wasn’t to be. Kerb damage to the rear suspension sent him to the pits for lengthy repairs and resulted in 13th place and fifth overall after the round.
After showing mesmerising qualifying speed in both of the weekend’s qualifying runs and winning the season’s first race on Saturday at a canter, most people who watched Saturday thought he would dominate Sunday and win the round with ease. Motorsport is a fickle thing though, and traffic limited him to sixth on Saturday morning.
If that was a little disappointing for the 19-year-old after a stellar Saturday, then Sunday afternoon would have been even worse. Hedge is a fighter though, and usually bounces back in devastating form from such setbacks. There’s no question he’ll be on the pace at Teretonga, but results are all that matter.
James Penrose, the oldest driver in the field this season at 27, left the first round beaming after a very impressive victory in the Sunday morning race. In a reverse grid format based on Saturday’s results, he sacrificed tyre life later in the day for pace in the earlier race and made the investment pay off with a stylish drive, gapping the field from pole and winning by around six seconds.
Feature race winner Morales was quick all weekend. Always near the front on the results and on lap times he saved his best for last, leading the Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup feature all the way and generating enough speed to force Hedge into pushing hard enough to break his car. That alone marked him out as a player in this year’s championship. The fact he did all that while feeling under the weather is another feather in his cap. He obviously learns tracks quickly and is in good hands with M2 Competition.
Chloe Chambers was definitely one of the notable performers over the Highlands weekend. She built up speed and confidence every time who took to the track and slowly worked her way forward. Putting knowledge of the car to good use from racing it in two rounds of the 2022 W Series, Chole was at her best in the final race of the weekend. Despite it being the hottest, the longest and the toughest on the drivers, Chloe – complete with some painful blisters – produced a great race to finish fifth for Giles Motorsport.
Other notable performers over the weekend included Ryder Quinn who hit his grandfather’s track running on Friday with some very fast times and kept his form over the weekend. With a few more race miles under his belt, he’ll move further towards the front. He’s got plenty of speed too and is learning fast.
Kiwi Liam Sceats grabbed a podium in the final feature race which was a great way for the ex-Formula Ford racer to cap off his first weekend in the big league of international junior formulae.
There are just a few days to wait before the drivers go again, this time at the world’s most southerly circuit racing track recognised by the FIA. Teretonga is another Kiwi track steeped in history and its short, but very fast flowing corners have been graced by the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Chris Amon, Phil Hill and countless other iconic motorsport names. This season’s youngsters will be aiming to put their names up in lights in the big feature race on Sunday – the Spirit of a Nation Cup.
2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship – Points after 1 of 5 rounds
1. Charlie Wurz (Austria) – 76
2. David Morales (USA) – 74
3. Jacob Abel (USA) – 58
4. Ryder Quinn (Aus) – 58
5. Callum Hedge (NZ) – 54
6. James Penrose (NZ) – 52
7. Liam Sceats (NZ) – 49
8. Chloe Chambers (USA) – 45
9. Josh Mason (UK) – 31
10. Tom McLennan (Aus) – 30
11. Lucas Fecury (Br) – 29
12. Ryan Shehan (USA) – 26
13. Bree Morris (NZ) – 23