While most European junior drivers are spending this winter in the Middle East competing in the Formula Regional Middle Eastern Championship (FRMEC), Austrian Charlie Wurz travelled to the other side of the world to compete in the Formula Regional Oceania Championship (FROC). Feeder Series spoke to him about racing in New Zealand, cycling with Valtteri Bottas, and his plans for 2023.
By Jan Husmann
Almost one year ago, Charlie Wurz won his first title in single seater racing in the F4 UAE championship. Whilst he started 36 further Formula 4 races across Italian F4, ADAC F4, Spanish F4 and the FIA Motorsport Games, the 2022 UAE F4 title has remained the Austrian driver’s only championship victory.
Wurz’s focus in 2022 was on Italian F4, in which he finished fourth in the standings. “We had quite a poor round in Imola at the start of the year, so it made it a bit difficult to get the momentum,” he said. “But with a 40-car grid, no one had an all-perfect year in the championship. I came into the championship trying to finish in the top three and if I did a perfect championship, I think I could have finished in the top three – but I think we can still be happy with fourth.”
Competing in FROC
Although Wurz was expected to follow a similar path to his Italian F4 rivals and compete in FRMEC at the start of the 2023 season, the 17-year-old had other plans. He decided to take his talents to New Zealand to compete in FROC.
“I definitely had some good memories from the UAE, but my dad raced [in New Zealand] 30 years ago in Formula Ford at the same age and he really loved it,” Wurz explained. “The tracks are different to Europe, with some very old school tracks, and you learn different skills. On tracks where it is very difficult to overtake, you really have to trust yourself to go for a move which is a good thing to learn.
“You don’t have the run-off on [corner] exit. If you don’t make the move well, you are both out. In this championship you get a lot of points even if you are last on the grid, so it is about not crashing and not making too many mistakes.”
Wurz followed his own advice during the first round of FROC in Highlands Motorsport Park. He was consistent and almost mistake-free, finishing second, fourth and then second again. The Austrian driver’s haul of 76 points means that he is currently first place in the standings before Round 2 in Teretonga this weekend, although he remains wary of the local competition.
“The Kiwi drivers are quite tough on track, and they also know the tracks so well,” he said. “There are only a few tracks here in New Zealand and they have done thousands of laps on them.”
Wurz was modest when talking about his goals for the rest of the championship.
“I don’t want to look at the championship after Round 1. I want to focus and keep learning and improving. That’s the most important part. Winning the championship, obviously, would be the goal but I definitely have a lot more to improve. First, I want to focus on that and then after a few rounds I’ll have more clear answers on what I would like to do in the following rounds.”
Looking ahead to FRECA in 2023
FROC also gives Wurz his first competitive sessions in the Formula Regional class after taking part in the FRECA post-season test. “Session by session I was learning so much,” he said. “The car is set up slightly different and the tyres are a bit different to what I was testing in Europe. But it is also good to adapt to different situations.
“I think the most important part with this car is [qualifying]. You can run different setups to get the perfect lap and deal with [the qualifying setup] in the race a bit more. If you don’t qualify well, especially in FRECA with 40 cars, you basically have no chance of overtaking. That is something I also need to work on because my race pace has been much better than my qualifying pace.”
Wurz’s focus on FRECA is no coincidence. “I can’t announce exactly what I will do next year, but it is certain I will race FRECA. We sort of have an idea of what we are going with next year, but I just want to focus on [FROC] and make sure I am as prepared as possible for Europe.”
I can’t announce exactly what I will do next year, but it is certain I will race FRECACharlie Wurz on 2023
Looking ahead to the upcoming FRECA season, Wurz said, “There are a few more rookies than usual, which is positive. In the last years, there were a lot of experienced drivers. I think in FRECA, the more experience you have, the better you are. There will be a few like [third-year FRECA driver] Kas Haverkort, and it will be good to learn from them, but also a lot of drivers with equal level of experience to mine.”
Whether Wurz will be considered a rookie in FRECA has yet to be decided. To keep his rookie status, the Austrian driver must not take part in more than three rounds of FROC. “We have not really decided yet, to be honest. There are pros and cons to both. The most important thing is to learn as much as possible. If we feel I have learned enough after three rounds, I might as well stay a rookie.”
Training on and off track
However, there is no doubt that Wurz will race this weekend in Teretonga. “I have maybe done one hour in the [simulator], just to get a feel for [the track],” he said. “I do not think I needed to learn it for that long, as there are only four actual corners. But it is also very old school. The kerbs are old school and my dad raced there as well thirty years ago.
“You will have to keep building [confidence]. There is no run-off, so if you make a mistake you will be in the grass and soon in the wall. There are only a few corners, but they are quite key and difficult corners.”
Off track, Wurz is enjoying his time in New Zealand as well. The Austrian driver went hiking with his engineer and cycled with Valtteri Bottas. Whether he is closer to Bottas in bike racing or car racing is still up for debate, however.
“He has been training [through cycling] every day since he arrived two months ago, so he is definitely very strong in both. Right now I think I could get him on the bike, but I have to get an F1 drive to see how I do against him [in the car]. So if Alfa Romeo would let me drive, I would not mind.”
Wurz’s journey to Formula One is still long, but his performance over the past 12 months has taken him one step closer towards his dream. The next step on the Austrian driver’s feeder series journey comes this weekend, when he will compete in Round 2 of FROC.
Header photo credit: Formula Regional Oceania Championship
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