Austria’s Charlie Wurz heads into this weekend’s second round of the Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship as the series leader, but will be looking to take his first win at the fearsome Teretonga Raceway in Invercargill.
The track is the most southerly circuit in the world recognised by the FIA and has a rich motorsport history. It’s long straight and fast flowing corners are well suited to the Toyota FT-60 used by all competitors in the championship and Wurz will be keen to take a win on New Zealand soil.
Two seconds and a fourth at Highlands Motorsport Park for the first round were a strong start but Wurz will want more, especially in a country where his father Alexander raced on his way to a career in Formula One.
Wurz senior famously raced with two different coloured race boots, a habit that that started during his time in New Zealand when he mislaid one of them and had to find a replacement. Boots won’t be principal in Charlie’s mind, however, it will be beating round one pacesetters David Morales and Callum Hedge, who both took wins last weekend.
Of the two, Hedge will probably feel he has something to prove this weekend at Teretonga. His speed at Highlands was outstanding and he looked untouchable in the first race. He didn’t make the progress he would have liked in the second race but in the third needed a trip to the pits after consistent kerb hopping damaged his car’s suspension. Watch out for his prodigious qualifying speed and his Senna-like build up to a big lap which starts with him lagging at the back and slowly building up tyre temperature – specifically to a point where he wants it – before putting in an all-out lap that is on the limit everywhere.
Star of the show at Cromwell in many respects was Morales. The bubbly kid from Florida got his head down at the start of the weekend and just got better and better. Unknown to Kiwi fans and probably most of the global motorsport community outside of the USA scene, he left the weekend very much under the spotlight as a rising star in single seaters.
His win in the feature race was by winning standards an excellent one. He took off at the start, effectively raced Hedge into a mistake and then dominated. That was despite it being in his words “the longest and hardest race” he had done. And he did it feeling far less than 100% physically too. There’s no question he’s going to get better and better with more time in the car, so it is fair to say he’ll be a threat for overall honours again this weekend.
James Penrose won the second race last weekend – a reverse top eight grid which favoured those who finished lower in the top ten in the first race on Saturday – but it gave him a little extra wind in his sails for the feature race on Sunday and the likeable Kiwi can be expected to once again be a contender this weekend at a circuit he knows well.
Another United States driver, Jacob Abel, showed flashes of real speed during the first weekend too, and he could spring a surprise. So too, could Australian Ryder Quinn, a racing rookie with just two years of motorsport behind him. He was right on the pace in testing at Highlands but didn’t quite find the extra few tenths as his rivals did when it mattered in qualifying. He races hard though, and if he can improve his grid position he definitely has the speed for consistent podium finishes.
In his camp from this round onwards is former Indy Lights champion and Indycar driver Spencer Pigot. Pigot was a top performer in all junior categories prior to his Indycar career and will have plenty of knowledge that Jacob will benefit from.
Chloe Chambers knows more about the Toyota FT-60 she is racing than most of the field, having used the car in two rounds of the W Series last season. She put that knowledge to very good effect at the first round, moving steadily closer to the front running pace over the weekend. Her form in the feature race was particularly impressive. Carrying blisters from the very physical nature of the cars and track, she worked her way through to fifth place at the end and bagged some very impressive lap times. Watch out for this promising American racer too.
Yet another outstanding Kiwi, Liam Sceats, is another who could shine in New Zealand’s deep south. He could be well satisfied with his first weekend in a major single seater championship as he raced to a podium finish in the feature race. Importantly he kept his nose clean and didn’t make any really obvious mistakes all weekend.
Josh Mason got his weekend underway with a couple of big mistakes in Cromwell, damaging one car in testing and then suffering a decent off into the barriers on Friday. The youngster though, bounced back in style with a solid weekend where he demonstrated some very obvious pace as an experienced junior formulae racer in the UK and Europe. If he maintains that momentum this weekend, he’ll be near the front.
Breanna Morris – the fourth Kiwi in the field this year – will be aiming for a step up in her form for the second round. Highly regarded in New Zealand and successful in Formula Ford, there’s no reason to expect she won’t be much closer to the pace at what is a less physically demanding track on the CTFROC calendar.
Of the rest, Australian Tom McLennan will be looking for change in fortune and should benefit from some input from vastly experienced Toyota single seater racer and local boy Brendon Leitch. Ryan Shehan and Lucas Fecury also had strong moments in the first weekend of the championship, but like everyone else will be hunting tenths to move up the very competitive order.
Testing on Friday will be followed by qualifying and a race on Saturday. There will be another qualifying session for the feature race on Sunday morning, followed by a reverse grid format race and then the main event in the afternoon, the Spirit of a Nation Trophy.
2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship Points after 1 of 5 rounds:
2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship Schedule:
|1||Highlands Motorsport Park||13 to 15 January, 2023|
|2||Teretonga Park Raceway||20 to 22 January, 2023|
|3||Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon||27 to 29 January, 2023|
|4||Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park||3 to 5 February, 2023|
|5||Taupo International Motorsport Park||10 to 12 February, 2023|
Main image : Bruce Jenkins | Words: Supplied