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Thursday, Dec 19 06:50pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Velocity News Driver of the Year: 30–21

Here it is, Part 3 in the Velocity News Driver of the Year. Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty where the championship winners and standout performers come to the fore.

 

If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 you can CLICK HERE for 50–41 and CLICK HERE to see 40–31 in the standings.

 

Without further ado, here are the drivers who were title winners or contenders throughout 2019.

 

Reece Hendl-Cox

 

30. Reece Hendl-Cox (New Entry)

Categories / Formula First

Achievements / P1 overall Formula First

 

Formula First remains to one of the most competitive championships in New Zealand.

 

To win a race is difficult enough, especially with the unpredictability of the action meaning just about anyone can come out on top.

 

However, Reece Hendl-Cox managed to defy the odds by dominating the championship and winning the title with a round to spare.

 

It is perhaps somewhat disappointing that Hendl-Cox hasn’t made the move up to the Toyota 86 Championship or Formula Ford where he would undoubtedly be competitive.

 

He’s shown no signs of slowing down either. Already, after three rounds, Hendl-Cox holds the lead of the championship heading in 2020.

 

 

29. Jonny Reid (Down 3)

Categories / NZEC, NIES, SIES

Achievements P1 NZEC, P1 SIES, P2 NIES

 

These days Jonny Reid is more focused on his young family than he is on the sport that once regarded him as one of its ‘next big things’

 

Regardless, that hasn’t stopped him making a mark on the New Zealand endurance racing scene.

 

There was an expectation that Reid and Foster could do the trifecta, winning the North Island, South Island and New Zealand title.

 

They ticked two of those boxes, winning the South Island Endurance Series in a thrilling finale while convincingly winning in the New Zealand Endurance Championship final.

 

A gearbox issue in the second round of the North Island Endurance Series ultimately kept them out of contention, handing the win to Glenn Smith and John De Veth.

 

Certainly, Reid is still with it, and it’s perhaps a shame that he never really got to have a proper go overseas in GT3 endurance racing. Certainly now more so than ever, Reid would be a good asset as a Silver ranked driver.

 

Darren Kelly

 

28. Darren Kelly (New Entrant)

Categories / D1NZ Pro Series

Achievement / P1 D1NZ Pro Series

 

When Darren Kelly won the D1NZ Pro-Sport Series and then won the Pro Series a year later in his Nissan Skyline R34, there was an expectation that the success would continue with a new build.

 

Ol’ reliable was tucked away and in came a new Nissan Skyline GT-R. Still running the same power plant, Kelly didn’t find success immediately.

 

However, this year Kelly came on strong, either winning or getting on the podium at every round bar one this season.

 

Kelly faced stiff opposition from veterans of the sport and newcomers too but ultimately kept a cool head to take the title.

 

Simon Evans

 

27. Simon Evans (Up 11)

Categories / Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY

Achievements / Mexico E-Prix win, five podiums


Former domestic V8 and endurance champ Simon Evans doesn't do a heck of a lot of racing here these days, save for an all-comers BNT V8s non-championship appearance in Smeg Racing's unhinged Holden VF Commodore.

 

Instead, he's a front-runner in Jaguar's all-electric I-Pace e-Trophy series — flying New Zealand's colours in a truly global tin-top category. The single-make series is still finding its feet but has attracted praise for its occasional panel-bashing on-track action. And in this silent SUV arena, Evans has excelled.

 

Winning the category's inaugural race late last year, Evans was unlucky to not finish better than fourth in the title fight as Brazilians Sérgio Jimenez and Caca Bueno swept the top two.

 

But he already looks likely to make good in the 2019–’20 season, having won the season opener in Saudi Arabia. A more consistent season should see him claiming silverware at next July's London finale.

 

 

26. Jay Urwin (New Entry)

Categories / KartSport

Achievements / P1 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Final, Micro MAX

 

Success at ‘world’ level shouldn’t be understated, which is why Jay Urwin and Clay Osborne - one place higher- feature so highly in this year’s rankings.

 

Urwin and Osborne were victorious in the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Final in Italy, racing for a week straight all the way to the top step in the final.

 

The gruelling world final brings together all the best karting talent from around the globe, converging on one circuit to decide who is the best.

 

The best bit is that all the karts are fundamentally equal. Big budgets are out of the question and each driver gets given a kart to race. For the pair, it’s their one chance to show the world what they’re made of.

 

Urwin came up top trumps in the Micro MAX division, fending off a strong field of over 30 other competitors.

 

He was also proficient on home soil, coming second in the City of Sails Vortex Mini ROK division.

 

Backed by long-time KartSport stalwart and dad Niki Urwin, at just 11 years old young Jay is already making waves in the karting world.

 

 

25. Clay Osborne (New Entry)

Categories / KartSport

Achievements / P1 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Final, Junior

 

Clay Osborne just gets the edge over Jay Urwin in this year’s Driver of the Year for the scale of his achievements.

 

With over 70 other competitors all vying for the win, the 15-year-old managed to beat the best drivers from around the world.

 

Wins for Osborne and Urwin marked the first time any New Zealanders had won at the Grand Final since Ryan Urban won DD2 in 2015.

 

Their achievements must not be understated, especially at such a young age.

 

Osborne had the added bonus of a podium place in the Junior Rotax division of this year’s KartSport New Zealand National Sprint Championship.

 

KartSport in New Zealand continues to produce exceptional talent, and, as such, two of the best performers of 2019 must be recognised.

 

 

24. Peter Vodanovich (New Entry)

Categories / Toyota 86 (New Zealand & Australia)

Achievements / P4 Toyota 86 Championship

 

What a year it was for 18-year-old Peter Vodanovich.

 

A rollercoaster ride of epic proportions, his year will largely be remembered for that massive rollover at Mount Panorama.

 

The youngster had a rocky start to the season in 2018 with a DNF in his first Toyota 86 Championship outing but bounced back emphatically.

 

Podium finishes came calling and he soon had a win to his name at the tough to tame Highlands Motorsport Park.

 

A lul through the final couple of rounds meant he couldn’t challenge for the championship, but in the end, he finished the season as the second best rookie and fourth overall.

 

Keen to carry that momentum, Vodanovich made the move over to Australia to compete in the Toyota 86 Racing Series.

 

The much larger and more competitive series meant those podiums didn’t come as easy in Australia as they did back home. Top 10 finishes were the name of the game, but he looked threatening at times, ultimately dogged by mistakes, particularly at Townsville and Bathurst.

 

Vodanovich ended his season prematurely with that rollover but is already back in New Zealand looking for his first racing title.

 

The kid is supremely talented, perhaps made more impressive by the fact he didn’t do karting and began racing on Gran Turismo.

 

Jaden Ransley

 

23. Jaden Ransley (New Entrant)

Categories / Toyota 86 (New Zealand & Australia)

Achievements / P2 Toyota 86 Championship, race win at Phillip Island

 

After three seasons in the Toyota 86 Championship, it’s still hard to believe that Jaden Ransley is just 17 years old.

 

Throughout his three seasons, he’s looked likely to be a contender. In only his second year he was among the front runners scoring podiums and wins, but was ultimately stifled by a crash at Teretonga that wrote off his car and dented his budget.

 

For a time it looked like Ransley could be Callum Hedge’s kryptonite. With nearly as many wins and more podium finishes, the title fight went down to the wire.

 

Ultimately, a sole DNF in the final at Hampton Downs through no fault of his own curtailed those chances.

 

Ransley was understandably disappointed but put the missed opportunity to the back of his head before jumping the ditch.

 

His first full tilt in the Toyota 86 Racing Series - Australia’s equivalent championship - brought success immediately.

 

Third place in the first race and a win in the second outing put him on the map as he beat the likes of Garth Tander at Phillip Island. Another win probably should have come in the third outing but he was sent off the track late in the race.

 

Unfortunately, that set the tone for the rest of the season, which was fraught with missed opportunities. In the end, Ransley only cracked the top five once after his early success, unlucky at times getting caught in other people’s incidents.

 

Callum hedge

 

22. Callum Hedge (Up 3)

Categories / Australian Formula Ford, Toyota 86 Championship

Achievements / P1 Toyota 86, P4 Formula Ford

 

Every once in a while a driver comes along and makes you watch. One that always grabs your attention and regardless of where they start in a race, they’re the one to follow.

 

Callum Hedge was that kid. At just 14 years old - and one of the youngest in the Toyota 86 Championship - Hedge schooled the field.

 

An admittedly slow start saw Hedge come fourth in his first race, but by the end of the weekend, he was on top of the podium.

 

Hedge’s dive-bomb-city-style of racing paid dividends. In the end, seven race wins and five podiums cemented him the title. Though it wasn’t without drama, a rare engine failure at Teretonga was the only blip on the radar midway through the season.

 

With the domestic season sorted there were high hopes for a campaign in the Australian Formula Ford Championship.

 

Driving the championship-winning ex-Hunter McElrea car, Hedge started strong with three wins and two podiums in the first five races.

 

He faded from there though, either involved in incidents or making mistakes that kept him out of the running. In the end, he finished fourth.

 

What 2020 brings will be worth a watch.

 

Paul Manuell

 

21. Paul Manuell (Up 22)

Categories / TA2 Asia, V8 Utes

Achievements / P1 TA2 Asia

 

The TA2 Asia championship title this year proved that even after 28 seasons of racing, Paul Manuell has lost none of his flair or talent.

 

It was frustrating for him in V8 Utes this year in a season dogged by bad luck. In a championship where literally every race counts, a handful of retirements guarantee you won’t win the title, but Manuell remained a pacesetter and a driver supremely capable of passing others in equal machinery.

 

His form in TA2 alongside young gun Jaylyn Robotham of Australia shouldn’t come as a surprise or a shock. Straight on the pace and competitive, it was a professional approach to the task in hand that made a difference. He learned the car and the circuits quickly and the title was fully deserved.

 

Like a fine wine, Manuell just seems to get better and better.

 

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