After five consecutive race weekends, Charlie Wurz became the 2023 Formula Regional Oceania champion. The Austrian and championship rival Callum Hedge both won races in Round 5 at Taupo, alongside Chloe Chambers, who made history in Race 2. Here are our takeaways from the race weekend.
By Jan Husmann
Wurz’s consistency secures title
There is a case to be made that Charlie Wurz was not the fastest driver on the grid of the Formula Regional Oceania Championship (FROC). Championship rival Callum Hedge stood on the podium more often and set more fastest laps than Wurz. And when he joined for the final two rounds, Laurens van Hoepen outscored everyone, including Wurz, across the six races he competed in.
However, Charlie Wurz is a deserving and worthy champion. With FROC’s points system favouring consistent finishes, Wurz delivered exactly what was expected of him. His worst result was eighth in Race 1 at Hampton Downs, which still netted him eighteen points. Meanwhile, his championship rivals Hedge and Abel both suffered point-less outings during the final two weekends.
Wurz’s pace in qualifying was the key to success. Earlier in the season, he told Feeder Series it would be important to run a setup that allows for the fastest lap in qualifying and managing the pace during the race. His four pole positions matched Hedge’s total, and his most important pole position came this weekend at the most crucial time. After Hedge took the championship lead with a win on Saturday, Wurz struck back on Sunday morning, setting the fastest lap in Qualifying 2, securing a podium finish in Race 2 and converting his pole into victory in Race 3.
Wurz’s FROC title caps off his second consecutive successful winter series after he won the F4 UAE title in 2022. He will try to carry this momentum into his rookie season in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA), where he will team up with FROC rival Van Hoepen at ART GP.
Hedge’s title challenge falls short
FROC’s appeal to many viewers comes from seeing Europe’s top talent travelling all the way to the other side of the world and going up against the best young drivers New Zealand has to offer. When the series was still known as the Toyota Racing Series (TRS), the likes of Liam Lawson, Marcus Armstrong, Brendon Hartley, Nick Cassidy and Mitch Evans got their first taste of the European-esque single-seater competition on their home-soil.
The Kiwi drivers, often more well versed with the tracks in New Zealand, would try their hardest to keep the Chris Amon Trophy in its origin country. This year, New Zealand’s most successful challenger was Callum Hedge. The 19-year-old mostly turned his back to open-wheel competition, with his most recent formula experience being an unsuccessful outing with G4 in FRECA in 2021. He raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia last year but kept his foot in the door of the single-seater scene by securing a grid-spot for FROC through the Tony Quinn Foundation and the Kiwi Driver Fund.
He made the most of the opportunity. On the last weekend, he once again took away Wurz’s championship lead. His pole-to-victory drive in Race 1 gave him a three-point championship lead heading into the final day of competition. But at the end of the day, Hedge could not beat Wurz to the title.
No matter what the final results were, Hedge impressed over the five weeks. If he could have avoided a broken pushrod in Highlands or a battery failure in Hampton Downs, the trophy would probably bear his name. The record books will remember Wurz as the champion, but Hedge’s performance should provide him more opportunities in single-seaters if he chooses to pursue them. For 2023, though, he will return to the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia with Team Porsche New Zealand.
Chambers makes history
Since its inception in 2005, FROC and TRS saw 83 different race winners prior to this weekend. One thing all 83 had in common was the fact that every single one was male. In Race 2 of this past weekend, Chloe Chambers made history, becoming the 84th race winner and first woman ever to win a race in the series’ history.
The American racer also became the first woman to start a race in P1 over the series’ history. She made a perfect start, beating Josh Mason off the line. Over the course of the race, she was able to withstand attacks from Kaleb Ngatoa and bring home the first victory of her competitive single-seater career.
Chambers likely would not have had the chance to start on the front row if the Race 2 grid did not have the top eight from Race 1 reversed, but she took the opportunity and ran with it. It was a mature and controlled drive which came at the perfect time. With W Series seeming unlikely to return for the 2023 season, Chambers is still looking for a spot on a 2023 grid, and now that she is a FROC race winner, she has plenty of arguments as to why she should receive good racing opportunities in the future.
Header image credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand
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