Callum Hedge on racing in FROC as a Kiwi: ‘It has to be on your CV’

Coming into the Formula Regional Oceania Championship as an relative outsider to junior formulae, Callum Hedge impressed during the five-week championship, barely missing out on the title. Feeder Series talked to the FROC runner-up about his time racing in the championship, his future, and the latest paddock fashion trend.

By Jan Husmann

When the Toyota Racing Series returned as the Formula Regional Oceania Championship (FROC) this winter, local hero Callum Hedge impressed, proving himself to be the number one challenger to the ultimate champion, Charlie Wurz.

Prior to his FROC campaign, the Kiwi’s most well-known feeder series outing was a disappointing weekend in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA) in Monza in 2021.

When I got [to Europe] I realised there is quite a difference to what I am used to

Hedge on competing in FRECA

“Coming from NZ during that time, I had not done a lot of racing,” Hedge said. “The last two championships I wanted to do had been cancelled from Covid, so I spent two years sitting on the sideline and we were looking for something to do.

“We decided that FRECA would be pretty fun. When I got [to Europe] I realised there is quite a difference to what I am used to. The teams are huge, they are professional outfits, and the driving style is totally different to what I am used to.”

Back on home soil

After facing disappointment in Monza, Hedge spent some time away from single-seaters, taking part in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia in 2022, where he won multiple races. But when the opportunity presented itself to jump back into Formula Regional machinery in the form of FROC, Hedge took it, using the funding he earned from winning the Tony Quinn Foundation shootout in 2022.

“Without that, it was pretty much impossible that I am on the grid,” he said. “I was very lucky. Because [FROC] is a New Zealand series, they really look after the New Zealand drivers. They run not only the Tony Quinn Foundation, but you have the Kiwi driver fund that adds a bit of a top-up to your budget.

A white and blue FT-60 car preparing to turn right trailed by two other single-seaters
Hedge was the vice-champion of FROC, losing out to championship rival Wurz by only 13 points | Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand

“And Toyota actually gave me a bit of support themselves, which was very cool. Without that, the basically free handouts to the Kiwi drivers, it is almost impossible for us to get onto the grid. They really look after the Kiwi drivers because they see that without any Kiwi drivers on the grid, they would not continue the series.”

The support for their young drivers yielded great results for the New Zealand motorsport scene in the past. The list of TRS alumni from New Zealand includes Liam Lawson, Marcus Armstrong, Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy.

It has to be on your CV if you are a Kiwi driver

Hedge on the importance of doing FROC as a NZ native

“It is just ridiculous,” Hedge said. “There is not really a single professional Kiwi racing car driver that has not come through this series. Without that you cannot go anywhere. It has to be on your CV if you are a Kiwi driver.”

‘I was an underdog’

When Hedge joined the FROC grid himself this year, he did not know if he was going to be able to compete for the title. But his pace early in the season gave him the confidence he needed to push Wurz until the last race of the season, when the Austrian took a controlled victory and won the championship by 13 points.

During the five weekends of FROC, Hedge was able to win three races and secured four second places. Wurz rated Hedge’s experience with the tracks in New Zealand as a big advantage, telling the Feeder Series Podcast, “Callum was telling me he did like 4,000 laps at Hampton Downs. So [he knows] the tracks very well.”

Especially gut-wrenching for Hedge was the penultimate round at Hampton Downs. Leading the championship for the first time since the second race of the season, he was slotted to start Race 2 from sixth position. But an electrical failure prevented him from taking his grid spot and scoring any points, while Wurz converted his pole position into victory.

For someone coming from a Porsche, I was always sort of an underdog

Hedge on the unconventional journey that led him to FROC

“I looked at the competition and all of the competition races single-seaters,” he said. “For someone coming from a Porsche, I was always sort of an underdog. There were a lot of people that probably had no idea who I was before the start of the championship.

“So being able to jump into a totally different car and race against guys that have done Formula 4, Formula 3, FRECA … was really confidence inspiring. When I went [to Italy], we had a terrible weekend, but when I got into a good car and I was happy with my environment, the results and speed were there.”

A double-edged sword

Hedge’s relative lack of experience in formula racing is offset by his vast experience in other series, as 2023 is already his eighth year in racing cars. At the age of 12, he made his debut in the SsangYong Racing Series after his progress in karting was temporarily halted.

“When I was doing go-karting, I did the Rotax Max Challenge in New Zealand, and my goal was to get the ticket to the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals,” Hedge recalled. “That would have given me the chance to do a bit of European karting and step up the ranks higher in karting before moving to cars.

“But when I was 12, I got banned from go-karting in New Zealand. My father got pretty upset with one of the officials and called him some less-than-nice things and they banned a 12-year-old kid from karting in New Zealand.”

Even though he has limited experience in formula cars, Hedge (centre) has plenty of experience in other series | Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand

This put Hedge out of contention to win the Rotax Max Challenge and instead brought his focus to racing in cars. He won the 2017 New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, becoming the youngest-ever national Formula Ford champion in the world, as well as the 2019 Toyota 86 Championship, making him the youngest race winner in the history of Australian Formula Ford.

“It is hard to tell whether it worked in my favour or not,” he said of his experience. “I have done a lot of car-driving, but [the other FROC competitors] have also done a lot more professional racing. It is as much an advantage as it is a disadvantage, I think.”

From FROC to Formula Regional Americas

Still, with limited experience in the Formula Regional car, Hedge was able to impress beyond the borders of his home country. With the positive experience from FROC fresh on his mind, he will continue racing Formula Regional machinery this year alongside his commitments in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia.

The prize for that is a Super Formula drive, so the idea is to win that prize and continue in single-seaters from there

Hedge on his plans to continue in single-seaters following his Formula Regional Americas campaign

“I am going to do Formula Regional Americas,” he announced. “The prize for that is a Super Formula drive, so the idea is to win that prize and continue in single-seaters from there.”

To make sure he can replicate his positive experience in FROC, he will bring along familiar faces to America. “The team will be [Crosslink] Kiwi Motorsport, but we are bringing M2 [Competition] engineers and mechanics,” he said. “It is going to be a M2 car without the name.”

Paddock trend-setter

Alongside his team, Hedge will also bring a particular fashion item he grew fond of during his FROC campaign: his Crocs sandals. During the five weeks of FROC, he not only convinced most of his teammates to try them but turned them into the unofficial footwear of the paddock.

“It started as a meme and then kind of grew into a bit of a cult following,” he said. At first, he got made fun of, but the attitude towards them quickly turned when the other drivers tried the sandal-like footwear themselves.

“Ryder Quinn also had a pair, so he started wearing them,” he said. “Then we convinced David [Morales] and David’s team. Then we convinced Charlie [Wurz] and then we got Liam Sceats. It was quite funny: at the start Charlie was very against them. It took me about a week, and he was in Crocs. Done. Problem solved.”

According to Hedge, not everybody was buying into the hype. “Laurens [van Hoepen] … was not buying into the whole Crocs experience,” he said. “To be honest, he is just out. He just has bad fashion taste compared to the rest of the M2 Competition drivers.”

It started as a meme and then kind of grew into a bit of a cult following

Hedge on how he popularised Crocs in the FROC paddock

This latest New Zealand fashion trend has also spilled over into the stands at races, something that Hedge witnessed during the New Zealand Grand Prix. “It was unbelievable. I saw at least 50 or 60 people wearing Crocs that weekend.”

As young drivers struggle to find funding for race seats, Hedge is trying to turn his position as a ‘cult leader’ into something valuable.

“They had a meeting about me,” he said, laughing. “I would take nothing, but just to say I am sponsored by Crocs would be pretty funny. I made them a lot of sales and I gave them popularity in the racing paddock. Surely I am worth something there.”

For 2023, however, Hedge’s plans are set. With the prospect of competing for two championship titles that could set him up well for the future, Hedge hopes his FROC campaign will not be the last time we hear his name.

Header image credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand

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