Matthew McCutcheon may have missed out on winning this year’s New Zealand Formula Ford championship, but he is in high spirits after a dazzling debut season.
McCutcheon only began circuit racing last year after a successful tilt in speedway.
Armed with the support of Robert ‘Cheese’ van Gisbergen, McCutcheon immediately made a statement in the single-seater category.
The Auckland teenager won two of the three races in the opening round of the national championship.
He then finished either first or second in all but one race, winning the North Island Formula Ford series along the way.
McCutcheon would ultimately finish runner-up to Christchurch’s James Penrose in the championship rankings.
Still, McCutcheon is over the moon with his rookie year and believes Penrose deserved to come away with the title.
“Looking back at my rookie year, I am just so happy with how it went,” McCutcheon told Velocity News.
“We were so close yet so far, but it was a great year.
“To go up against one of the best in James – someone who has done well in Formula Ford every year he has raced in it – in my first season was really cool.
“He is a deserving champion. He didn’t make any mistakes all year.
“So, big congrats to him for that.”
The final round of the championship was held over the weekend at Ruapuna in Christchurch.
McCutcheon had never visited the circuit before and used YouTube and onboard videos from previous seasons to prepare.
A solid practice day on Friday had McCutcheon end up as one of the fastest drivers.
However, his efforts were undone with a tough qualifying session Saturday morning that left him starting ninth.
His championship rival, Penrose, was on pole.
“Unfortunately, qualifying was in pretty tricky conditions,” he said.
I then came across some double yellows for a spun car, which meant I couldn’t overtake a guy ahead of me.
“That meant I had to abort what would have been my fastest lap on a dry track.
“But I was looking forward to the challenge of starting ninth.
“I hadn’t really had to pass to many people in the races before, so I was excited to try and make my way through the pack.
“Even Cheese said I had to go out there and do my job of getting to the front.
“I got a bit of terrible start and fell back to 11th. But managed to get it back together and finish sixth, and set the fastest lap to put me on pole for race two.”
The final two races of the day saw McCutcheon and Penrose go head-to-head in a battle that determined this year’s champion.
“It was a lot of fun racing against James,” he said.
“He is a clean, hard driver, and there was some really good racing going on between us. I think every lap the gap was just about the same.
“So, I was super happy with how the weekend went.”
After the festival, McCutcheon test drove an FT60 Toyota Racing Series car.
He says the leap up to a TRS from a Formula Ford wasn’t overly challenging but adds that it was one of the most exciting cars he had driven.
“The downforce of the TRS is incredible.
“You can carry so much more cornering speed than the Formula Ford, and push the car harder.”
McCutcheon currently has no firm plans for the rest of the year and is keeping all options on the table.
“Right now I have nothing lined up. So, I will sit down with Cheese shortly and start looking at what the next step of my career will be.”