Formula Ford racer Matthew McCutcheon says his race-winning form this season has been largely helped by his mentors Robert and Shane van Gisbergen.
McCutcheon is the current points leader in both the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship and the North Island series. The latest round of both championships was held at Hampton Downs last weekend, with McCutcheon clinching two wins out of the three races.
A successful speedway racer with tilts in both the F2 class and the International Midget Series, McCutcheon made the jump to circuit racing last year with the help of Robert (Cheese) van Gisbergen.
Cheese’s son, Shane, is one of the most recognisable names on the New Zealand motor racing scene. A winner of the New Zealand Grand Prix, the Bathurst 1000 and a former Supercars champion, van Gisbergen boasts a wealth of experience.
An ex-rally ace himself, Cheese played a significant role in Shane’s growth through his junior years.
Now, both are passing down their knowledge to the up-and-coming McCutcheon. The young Aucklander has even taken on the #97 for his maiden season.
Cheese has been on hand at the circuit each weekend that McCutcheon has been racing. Meanwhile, Shane has been tuning in from his home in Australia to give the prodigy a couple of pointers.
“Shane and Cheese have just been amazing in helping me grow with the series,” McCutcheon told Velocity News.
“Over the weekend, even though Shane was in Australia, he was keeping up with the data and telling me what I did right and what I did wrong. So, he has been a massive help in tidying up my driving.
“I have even done some driver training with him over at Norwell in Australia, so I really can’t thank what he has done to help me.
“Cheese has also been incredibly great in ensuring I get in a good headspace off the track, before and after races. He calms me down and gets me to focus on the racing.
“I am sure it is the same advice he gave Shane when he was younger, so I take in everything he tells me.”
Last weekend’s Formula Ford round at Hampton Downs was a testament to the tough competition McCutcheon will have to face this year.
Battling with South Island Series leader James Penrose, both of McCutcheon’s victories were sealed on the run to the line. The margins between the two were a measly 0.022s and 0.032s.
The one race he did not win had the spoils awarded to Penrose. Still, the Cantabrian took the chequered flag with a mere 0.064s in hand over McCutcheon.
“The competition in Formula Ford is really stiff,” McCutcheon said. “Even before last weekend, we had the likes of Matthew Payne and Tom Alexander racing in the series. Two speedy guys.
“Every race is always so close. It is a nose cone between each car, and the fights are incredible.
“James [Penrose] is a great driver. He is tough but fair, and he knows what he is doing. I knew a dive bomb or a lunge wouldn’t have done anything to get past him. So, I had to time the exit of the last corner on the final lap each race, using the draft to get past him.”
McCutcheon says he would love to see himself reach the professional status as a racing driver in the future. However, for now, he is taking each race as it comes.
“The ultimate goal would be to be a professional driver in something. It would be incredible to get paid to do what I love.
“But right now, we will just focus on the Formula Ford and winning the New Zealand title.
“From there, who knows where I will head. Tin-Tops always offer great racing, so I may look at doing something with that.”
Main Image: Geoff Ridder