After a year without running, the rebranded Formula Regional Oceania Championship (FROC) returned this weekend at Highlands Motorsport Park. We saw three different winners, but none of them ended up leading the championship after Round 1. Here are the four biggest takeaways from an action-packed opening weekend in FROC.
By Jan Husmann
Kiwis take the fight to international competition
The Toyota Racing Series has always been a terrific opportunity for drivers from New Zealand to compete against the best junior drivers in the world on their home soil. This has not changed with the rebranding of the championship to FROC. The four Kiwi drivers on the 2023 grid did not shy away from competition at Highlands Motorsport Park.
Callum Hedge looked unstoppable early on after finishing Qualifying 1, Race 1 and Qualifying 2 on top. However, the 19-year-old driver fell to the back of the grid after suffering a pushrod failure in the early stages of Race 3. James Penrose converted reverse grid pole into a win in Race 2, whilst Liam Sceats took New Zealand’s final podium of the weekend with a third-place finish in Race 3. The fourth driver from New Zealand, Breanna Morris, needed time to adjust to the physicality of the car, but she was able to finish all three races.
Additionally, Australian Ryder Quinn finished third, fourth and seventh in the opening round’s races. The series’ events are home races of a different sort for Quinn, as his grandfather – New Zealand motorsport investor and ex-GT racer Tony Quinn – owns three of this year’s FROC tracks. Although the local drivers naturally have fewer things to adjust to, the pace they have shown in Round 1 is promising. With Round 2 in Teretonga starting on Friday, expect the Kiwis to stay on top of the timing sheets.
Overtaking was – and will remain – difficult
FROC is running the Tatuus FT-60 this season. This is the same chassis that is used in FRECA, FRMEC, W Series and GB3 – with overtaking being notoriously difficult in all of these championships. Additionally, FROC is not using FRECA’s push-to-pass system, which makes it even harder for drivers to overtake on track.
The tracks FROC uses do not assist overtakes either. While Highlands Motorsport Park is one of the longer tracks on the calendar, it has 22 corners with barely any hard braking zones that invite drivers to make lunges down the inside of their competitors.
This race weekend, we saw that drivers required a significant pace advantage to follow cars through the corners. To complete an overtake, drivers would need to either catch their opponents napping or take advantage of a mistake on track – as demonstrated by Quinn and Charlie Wurz in Race 2.
Next weekend, Teretonga’s long main straight could provide good slipstreaming opportunities, but the narrow track will equally assist defending. With drivers still adjusting to the car and New Zealand’s tracks, overtaking could once again prove difficult next weekend.
Consistency is key
With five rounds to decide the championship, each FROC race will be immensely valuable for the drivers’ title campaigns. FROC’s points system compounds this effect by awarding points down to 20th in Races 1 and 3 and down to 15th in Race 2. With only 13 starters, a DNF means that a driver will lose points to all finishers.
Charlie Wurz is leading the championship after Round 1 without having a win to his name. Whilst Callum Hedge looked dominant early on, the pushrod failure that he suffered in Race 3 caused him to lose out on a potential second-place finish. Though Hedge was able to salvage nine points in Race 3 after rejoining the race in last place, five laps behind eventual winner David Morales, this costly incident meant that he now trails Wurz in the championship by 22 points.
FROC’s points system further discourages overtaking as any contact can lose drivers valuable points, no matter what position they are fighting for. Josh Mason learned this the hard way when he crashed with Jacob Abel in Race 3, causing Mason to drop from seventh to ninth.
After the stewards deemed Mason responsible for the incident, he received a drive-through penalty after the race. This penalty would have dropped Mason from ninth to 12th, but a procedural error led to a post-race disqualification. This turned what was originally a nine-point loss from the crash and subsequent penalty to an 18-point one thanks to Mason’s disqualification.
It is amongst the oldest truisms in motorsports, but consistency is the key to winning any championship. This is especially true for FROC in 2023.
M2 Competition figures out the tyres
Eighteen sets of tyres are available to each driver over the five race weekends in FROC. With the limited number of tyres, figuring out the Hankook rubber quickly can give teams a big advantage early in the season. After Round 1, M2 Competition looks most comfortable with the tyres.
Tyre advantage becomes particularly apparent in qualifying, as having the tyres in optimal shape when the track grip is at its highest will give teams their best shot at claiming pole position. In Qualifying 1, five of the top six finishers were M2 drivers – with the top four fastest drivers in Qualifying 2 also sporting the M2 logo on their car.
With few overtaking opportunities, high grid positions will likely translate into high finishing results. M2 Competition drivers have won this championship in every year of running since 2018. After the performance by the team this weekend, they will once again be the favourites for this year’s title – with their understanding of the championship’s tyres one of the secrets to their success.
Header photo credit: Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship
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