Round 3 of the Formula Regional Oceania Championship (FROC) is in the books. We saw the title battle tighten up, new faces on the grid and two new race winners. Here are the five key takeaways from the Circuit Chris Amon in Manfeild.
By Jan Husmann
Foster arrives on the scene
Ahead of Round 1 in Highlands Park, Foster’s name popped up on official FROC documents — albeit without any official confirmation. However, visa issues prevented the Indy Pro 2000 champion from joining the grid for the first two rounds.
Foster’s visa was sorted just in time for Round 3. He arrived in New Zealand on Thursday and had a private test on Friday before competing at Manfeild. He barely needed any time to be on the pace of the top drivers. In a wet Qualifying 1, the British driver put his car on the front row; later that day, he took his maiden FROC win, overtaking championship leader Wurz on the rain-soaked track.
Foster was happy about the rain during his first race, as he claimed he was still behind the leaders in dry conditions. However, one day later, he surpassed his own expectations by finishing Qualifying 2 in second position again — this time in the dry. With no championship aspirations to worry about, he went all out in the final two races of the weekend.
The British driver went from eighth to second in Race 2 and pushed leader Wurz throughout Race 3. With a second win of the weekend in his sights, he went for the lead with nine laps to go; however, his move was ultimately too ambitious. Wurz and Foster came together, dropping the championship leader to sixth and Foster to thirteenth at the chequered flag.
Foster only has a theoretical shot at the FROC title after missing the first two rounds and his thirteenth place finish in Race 3 has all but eliminated any slim chances that he might have had. However, there is no doubt that Foster will play a crucial role in the title fight as a likely challenger for race wins going forward.
Hedge chips away at Wurz’s championship lead
Last weekend Callum Hedge had the fastest pace of anyone in Teretonga. But after losing out to Wurz on the starts of Races 1 and 3, Hedge could not pass the Austrian for the win in either race.
Wurz’s points advantage in Rounds 1 and 2 mainly came down to nearly mistake-free driving. However, in Manfeild, mistakes and misfortune struck the reigning F4 UAE champion. Wurz had the pace advantage on Hedge this weekend, but Hedge was able to close the gap through achieving consistent results.
A five-second penalty for decreasing the speed set by the safety car in Race 1 dropped Wurz from second to fifth, whilst his crash with Foster in Race 3 meant that the Austrian driver fell from first to sixth. Meanwhile, Hedge kept his nose clean in both races and took two second-place finishes in the process. In the reverse grid Race 2, Hedge finished in seventh — one place behind Wurz.
The seventy-one points Hedge scored in Manfeild were the most of any driver on the grid, as he closed the gap between himself and championship leader Wurz from twenty-five points to just six. FROC’s points system has always favoured consistency over outright pace and Hedge has certainly taken advantage of this. With only two rounds to go, we have a great title fight on our hands.
Penrose puts together a complete weekend
It was a great weekend for the Kiwi drivers competing in FROC as the second-best points scorer of the weekend also sported the New Zealand flag on his car. James Penrose had already tasted victory when he won from reverse-grid pole in Race 2 at Highlands Park, but he put together his most complete round this weekend at Manfeild.
Penrose’s worst finishing position was sixth in Race 1. He improved to fifth in Race 2 and in Race 3 he took advantage of the Foster-Wurz tangle to inherit the lead and, subsequently, the race win. His haul of sixty-seven points also means that he leaps from seventh to fourth in the driver standings.
Penrose is an experienced driver in other categories of car racing, but he did not have a lot of time in the Tatuus FT-60 prior to the season. Gaining experience and confidence through the first rounds of FROC, he finally managed to put together a complete weekend — just in time for the New Zealand Grand Prix.
Mason misses consistency
British racer Josh Mason has provided the counterpart to Penrose’s steady approach in the first three rounds of FROC. Mason has plenty of experience in Formula 3 machinery and has shown good pace in New Zealand. However, he has struggled to convert this pace into consistent results.
He crashed his car in tricky conditions in Qualifying 1 but recovered to seventh in Race 1. After securing a front row start for Race 2, he beat Ryan Shehan off the line to claim his first win of the championship.
Despite an encouraging start, Mason could not carry this momentum in to Race 3. In lap three, he had a snap of oversteer when fighting with Billy Frazer and made contact with the Kiwi — ending Mason’s race and relegating Frazer to the back of the field.
Whilst Mason consistently fights for the upper midfield positions, he only sits in eighth in the championship, seventy-seven points behind championship leader Wurz. If he can clean up his mistakes while retaining his competitive pace, he should be able to climb multiple positions in the standings.
FROC grid expands
Round 3 saw three new drivers — Louis Foster, Billy Frazer and Adam Fitzgerald — join the FROC grid. It also saw a new team entry in Hamilton Motorsport, with Chris van der Drift set to join Frazer at the team for the New Zealand Grand Prix next weekend.
The expansion of the grid has benefitted the competitiveness of the races. Wurz and Foster went head-to-head for race wins throughout the weekend, whilst Frazer and Fitzgerald quickly acclimatised to the competitive midfield.
With further drivers expected to be confirmed for the New Zealand Grand Prix, this trend should continue for Round 4. Drivers joining for one or two rounds have fewer incentives to race cautiously to secure points for the championship standings, as they are already out of contention for the title.
With more drivers than any other FROC round, this weekend’s New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs should provide the most exciting racing that we have seen so far in the championship.
Header photo credit: Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship
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