Seven months between hit-outs is a heck of a long time, but Callum Hedge says it felt great to finally get into the driver’s seat again.
Hedge is sitting out his mandatory managed isolation period at a Rotorua hotel after a recent trip to Italy.
He raced in the final round of the Formula Regional European championship at Monza.
The opportunity was Hedge’s first time back in a race car since his Porsche Michelin Sprint season in Australia hit pause amid lockdowns.
That was the primary reason behind the one-off venture north of the equator: to get back to racing.
“First race since May,” he said.
“It was good fun, probably the most fun I’ve had in a car for some time.”
The weekend was Hedge’s first return to single-seaters since the 2019 Australian Formula Ford championship.
He got some time testing the Formula 3-spec car in the week leading into the round.
“The test was really good. Balance was mega and it felt the same to what I was used to [with the Toyota Racing Series car].”
Hedge would have two races around Monza, a symbol of Italian motorsport.
“It was cool to be driving on a track with so much history.”
At just 11 corners, Monza is one of the easier circuits to learn, and Hedge soon had his head wrapped around the track.
Instead, it was a brake problem that kept Hedge and the GP4 race team puzzled.
“We struggled with a brake issue. The brake balance kept changing by itself in the braking zone.
“We fixed it just before qualifying, so practice was sort of useless.
“I also didn’t quite know how to maximise the green tyre in qualifying.”
Hedged started 25th for his first race. Then the nerves started kicking in.
“I was actually terrified for that first race.
“Cars were going everything, and there were no doors and no roof like what I was used to.
“We dropped back heaps before I figured out where you could push.”
Eventually, Hedge started finding his groove. His times in the final five laps were almost on par with what the leaders were doing.
He finished 22nd.
Day two and Hedge was confident he had the car and the speed to crack into the top-ten.
Unfortunately, the weather had a different say and qualifying was staged on a damp but drying track.
The fastest laps would be set after the timer had expired as the circuit rapidly evolved and got quicker and quicker.
Hedge’s best recorded lap was 4.3 seconds off pole. It was his warmup lap, and he slid off the road at the second chicane.
Hedge reckons he could have gone at least three and a half seconds quicker if he had time to do one final lap.
Starting 29th, Hedge quickly made up four spots before the race was red-flagged.
The two leaders, and Prema teammates, then crashed on the restart and the race finished behind the safety car.
Hedge was 20th at the chequered flag. His car was also suffering from another brake drama.
“The brake pedal was going to the floor,” he said.
“We were bleeding the brakes before the start, and then bleeding them again during the red flag.”
Overall, Hedge relished the experience of racing in a new environment.
“I always knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was good for me. Good experience to go up against those guys.”
Hedge gets out of MIQ on Thursday and will begin preparing for the next phase of his career.