Sir Stirling Moss. Sir Jackie Stewart. Our own Bruce McLaren, Kenny Smith, Shane van Gisbergen and Liam Lawson. Current Formula 1 drivers Lance Stroll and Lando Norris. The list goes on.
We can now add Laurens van Hoepen to that exclusive collection, the Dutchman never looking in doubt and taking New Zealand Grand Prix this afternoon.
The Dutchman controlled proceedings from the outset, pulling away from the get-go with only Louis Foster able to follow.
He maintained a small gap to the Brit throughout the race, never giving an Foster an opportunity to challenge for the lead.
Callum Hedge earned the final spot on the podium as the top Kiwi in the field, holding off Kaleb Ngatoa and Chris van der Drift for the majority of proceedings.
A late, rare Ngatoa mistake gave van der Drift a way through to finish fourth, Ngatoa himself holding on for fifth ahead of Liam Sceats.
Championship leader Charlie Wurz could only manage seventh, Hedge back in contention for the title after his Race 2 electrical failure.
Van Hoepen, however, announced himself on the scene in incredible fashion, at 17 years old proving he is definitely one to watch in future.
The same could be said for Foster in second, the only one who could provide an answer to the sheer capabilities of the Dutchman.
Greg Murphy offered something special pre-race, a lap in an ex-Hulme M23, paying homage to those who came before.
Once that was all said and done, the grid was formed, van Hoepen at the front after claiming a shock pole yesterday, the ever-impressive Englishman Foster alongside.
Ngatoa and Hedge, locked out the second row, two of New Zealand’s top hopes right in the thick of it, pressured by series leader Wurz and the always-improving Kiwi Sceats on the row behind.
The scene was set and the lights went green.
The front row both launched well, Foster slightly getting the better of van Hoepen into Turn 1, the two immediately commencing the battle which has been teased all weekend.
Hedge immediately dropped into third, Ngatoa close behind. The latter had a hairy moment at the start of Lap 2, in the dirt and sliding before regaining control, the only damage a minor time loss.
Not long after van Hoepen took the lead off the Brit, grabbing the inside line into the hairpin and fending off a criss-cross after the move was done.
A small gap was quickly closed by Hedge, Ngatoa also regaining ground with Ngatoa in tow.
Van der Drift had a flying opening three laps, up to fifth ahead of Sceats from his starting grid of ninth.
Wurz was running seventh by this point, Hedge in a position to make up some of the points lost in Race 2 earlier today after electrical issues.
A rhythm was quick to form from here, the front two slowly building over the field as Ngatoa pressured Hedge for third.
It only took five laps for van Hoepen to beat 2020 Grand Prix winner Shane van Gisbergen’s best lap from that race, the pace and sheer class of the Dutchman evident throughout the early stages.
Eight laps in is where Ngatoa really began to threaten Hedge with van der Drift also in close proximity, the gap to the two ahead now over 3 seconds and slowly growing.
Foster kept the gap to van Hoepen at just over 1 second as the race entered its mid-stages, the two continuing to better their lap times lap-by-lap.
At halfway the gap was maintained at 1 second, Hedge some 6 seconds back in third and doing enough to not give Ngatoa or van der Drift a sniff.
Sceats continued to hold a steady sixth, Wurz kept in seventh with Abel behind in eighth, the series’ leader and third-placed driver with plenty of work to do to minimise their point losses to Hedge.
Leitch had been running steady in 11th with 10 laps to go before a lock up sent him straight through the dirt and onto an escape road. He rejoined safely albeit back down in 15th.
Ngatoa then went on to stamp down the pressure on Hedge, the two making light contact at the dipper after both locked up. He then went on to run wide heading onto the straight, van der Drift pouncing and taking fourth off the youngster, giving Hedge some breathing space in third.
Van Hoepen and Foster had extended their lead over the field, the gap over 10 seconds with six laps to run, the Brit remaining within a 1.5 second window of the Dutchman.
From here it was never in doubt, the two Europeans far ahead of the Kiwis with van Hoepen controlling things nicely, holding on for New Zealand Grand Prix victory.
The Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship returns for the season-concluder next weekend at Taupo International Motorsport Park.
|Winner||Laurens van Hoepen|
|4th||Chris van der Drift|
Header Image: Bruce Jenkins