Kaleb Ngatoa has driven to an incredible victory in today’s Toyota Formula Regional Oceania opener at Hampton Downs, taking the lead off the start to hold off Laurens van Hoepen for victory.
The Dutchman did everything in his power to challenge the Kiwi for the win, Ngatoa showcasing his abilities behind the wheel to hold off a late charge and win by just over one second.
It was Callum Hedge who rounded out the podium, a lonely race in third seeing him finish 4 seconds behind those ahead and 9 seconds ahead of those behind.
A result of his podium sees him take the championship lead over Charlier Wurz, the Austrian only managing eighth after a tough opening few laps.
Tomorrow’s reverse top 8 grid will work in favour of Wurz, however, who will start on pole alongside American Jacob Abel who sits third in the championship. He’ll only need to make up three points to retake the series lead.
Kiwi favourites Chris van der Drift and Brendon Leitch worked their way through the field to finish fifth and sixth respectively, only the impressive Irishman of Adam Fitzgerald separating them from Hedge in third.
Another pre-race favourite, Louis Foster, also looked good early, but dropped back before eventually retiring with gearbox issues.
The race belonged to Ngatoa, however, who never looked in doubt off the line, an incredible launch seeing him jump well clear of the field heading into Turn 1. Pole-sitter van Hoepen sat back into second whilst Hedge pipped Foster off the line to sit third at the end of the opening lap.
Championship-leading Wurz dropped back off the start, sitting 10th at the end of the first lap.
As expected, experienced New Zealand racers Chris van der Drift and Brendon Leitch moved forward, the latter following the former through the field.
Ngatoa quickly went about building his lead up front, putting over a second on the field before van Hoepen began to make up ground on the laps following.
Gremlins became an issue for Foster, believed to be issues with the clutch. He dropped down the order to eventually withdraw, allowing for Fitzgerald to work his way into fourth by the end of Lap 4 with van der Drift and Leitch close behind.
Wurz had also got to business, working forward to sit eighth after 5 laps.
An impressive qualifying session for Sceats was let down by a struggle for race pace, the Kiwi quickly swallowed up by the field to sit outside the top 10 after seven laps.
By this point the three leaders had bolted, Ngatoa still a second ahead of van Hoepen with Hedge a further two seconds behind in third, Fitzgerald seven seconds behind in fourth
Fitzgerald should be commended for his defence over van der Drift through the race mid-stages, the Irishman continuously pressured by the Kiwi veteran but holding his nerve to maintain position.
Billy Frazer had also quietly picked of cars ahead from 18th on the grid, sitting 13th after 12 Laps. James Penrose went about trying to gain his spot back in a thrilling side-by-side battle with his compatriot, the Road to Indy racer maintaining his place.
Up front, van Hoepen went about slowly bringing the gap down to the lead, sitting less than a second back as the race entered the final five laps.
Hedge was running a lonely third at this point, three seconds off the two ahead and nine seconds ahead of Fitzgerald behind, who had also pulled away slightly from van der Drift.
Ngatoa reacted well to the pressure behind in the lead, holding his nerve to keep the Dutchman behind just out of range as the race entered it’s penultimate lap.
Ngatoa held on through the final lap, despite some lap nerves, taking victory over the Dutchman with Hedge doing enough to take the series lead with third.
Fitzgerald held on for a well-deserved fourth ahead of the more experienced van der Drift and Leitch behind. Abel was quiet for his seventh whilst Wurz finished in eighth, meaning he’ll be on pole in tomorrow’s first race.
Sceats was 11th overall whilst Frazer finished 14th, one spot ahead of Penrose. Morris rounded out the Kiwis in the field with 17th.
Toyota Formula Regional Oceania returns for two races tomorrow, the first at 1pm followed by the New Zealand Grand Prix at 4.07pm.
Racing is live on Sky Sport 5 (055) and TV3. You can view everything you need to know about this weekend’s event here.
|2nd||Laurens van Hoepen|
|5th||Chris van der Drift|
Header Image: Supplied