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  • Writer's pictureRACERS

Chloe Chambers and Breanna Morris complete their first NZ GP

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

For the first time in 10 years, the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix featured female drivers on the grid: American Chloe Chambers and local talent Breanna Morris completed the flagship event of the Formula Regional Oceania championship for the first time in their careers. Ahead of the final round, Chambers keeps 10th in the drivers' standings.

Photo credits: Bruce Jenkins / Toyota GR New Zealand

Formula Regional Oceania hosted its signature race of the New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs, one of the more historic events in motor racing and one of the only two events that still hold the "Grand Prix" nomenclature outside of the Formula 1 world championship, alongside the Macau GP.

First held in 1950, the legendary drivers that have written their names on the trophy are Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Chris Amon, Keke Rosberg – as well as contemporary racing stars Mitch Evans, Nick Cassidy, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Liam Lawson, Richard Verschoor.

A small but significant number of women have also appeared on the grid of the prestigious race since 1980: from Desiré Wilson - one of the only five women to have attempted a F1 start - to local talent Christina Orr-West in the 2000s, the highest placed to date - and the most recent, Tatiana Calderon in 2013.

Breaking a 10 year hiatus, were two talented female racers: Chloe Chambers and Breanna Morris.

Chambers, 18, has been a consistent presence in the top-ten in the previous three rounds of the Formula Regional Oceania championship and has a personal best of fifth.

The American quickly learned the tracks, showed good overtaking skills and collected valuable experience in the rain in the past couple of weekends.

New Zealand's North Island Formula Ford champion Breanna Morris had to adapt to a significantly different car – the physically demanding and high downforce Tatuus – but has noticeably shortened the gap session after session and progressively approached the top ten, with four P11 finishes as her personal best so far.

At the fourth round, the entry list was significantly bigger, as 20 cars entered the 67th edition of the New Zealand Grand Prix aiming to add their name to the list of motorsport legends.

Having joined the grid for the flagship event of the championship, Dutchman Laurens van Hoepen (M2 Competition) made his debut with a pole position in the new format qualifying, which set the grid for the fourth round with a F1-style three knock-out sessions.

Alongside the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship driver was Kaleb Ngatoa, fast Kiwi driver that secured pole at the New Zealand Grand Prix two years ago and who also joined the field for the special occasion. Louis Foster and Callum Hedge were third and fourth fastest – while championship leader Charlie Wurz would have to make up positions from seventh. Chloe Chambers lined up in 15th and Breanna Morris in 19th, with Tom McLennan forced to sit out the round due to a wrist injury.

Photo credits: Bruce Jenkins / Toyota GR New Zealand
Race 1

Depite wet practice sessions, all three races went underway in dry conditions. At lights out, Ngatoa fired into the lead, leaving van Hoepen battling with Hedge. Chambers gained one place at the start – as well as Morris, who passed Fecury over the course of the first lap. Local stars Chris Van der Drift and Brendon Leitch were quickly navigating through the midfield after a difficult qualifying: they both passed Louis Foster after the Briton was ran wide in a battle with Fitzgerald for fourth place – his car visibly struggling with a technical issue.

As Foster slowed down, he had a close call with Wurz after the Austrian committed to a late move at Turn 8 and locked wheels, marginally avoiding hitting Foster, who then had to pit and retire on lap 5 due to a clutch issue. The whole pack was lapping tenths away and positions changed by the second.

Meanwhile, van Hoepen had set the fastest lap and closed in on Ngatoa – and van der Drift was putting intense pressure on Fitzgerald. Having recovered up to P13, Chloe Chambers lost a few places and dropped to P16 on lap 7.

Ahead of her, winner of the previous feature race James Penrose, Josh Mason and Billy Frazer were battling closely – as the American was ready to pick up the pieces. Chambers did manage to get ahead of Penrose, as also Breanna Morris joined this group of cars. Penrose was eventually back ahead when Chambers went deep at Turn 1 with three laps to go.

In the final laps, van Hoepen was closer than ever to the race leader; Ngatoa held on even after a lock up on the last lap and won race 1 ahead of a charging Laurens van Hoepen and Callum Hedge, seven seconds down the road, who importantly conquered the top of the points' standings over his championship rival Charlie Wurz, eighth at the chequered flag.

Chloe Chambers had good pace but got stuck in the battles and finished P16, one place ahead of Breanna Morris, who comfortably kept Fecury behind.

Photo credits: Bruce Jenkins / Toyota GR New Zealand
Race 2

In the reverse grid race on Sunday morning, Charlie Wurz slotted on pole after finishing eighth in race 1 – aiming to claim back the lead in the standings, lost to Callum Hedge on Saturday. His rival, though, ran into troubles on the formation lap, as his car came to a halt on the grid. Race 1 winner Kaleb Ngatoa also hit trouble and both the front runners tried to start from the pitlane, but Hedge was out of the race before the lights even went out.

Chloe Chambers and Breanna Morris lined up again from P16 and P17, ready to seize any opportunity.

Wurz and Abel almost banged wheels at the start – as Leitch followed in third after an aggressive start. Wurz held off the attacks of Abel – but the safety car was brought out for the stopped car of Billy Frazer, after contact with Chambers.

Breanna Morris had found a way past Fecury on the first lap, while Chloe Chambers was back to P16 after a good start was hindered by the unfortunate first lap.

Wurz well managed the restart and kept the top spot from Abel, Leitch and van der Drift. Morris defended 14th, but had to give up a few places to Chambers – who had soon overtaken Fecury – and the recovering Ngatoa.

Laurens van Hoepen was on the move: the Dutchman first got by Fitzgerald and a few laps later he moved up to fourth with an identical move at Turn 2 on van der Drift. Van Hoepen survived an off-track moment once he had just caught up with Leitch, but was able to complete the pass with 4 laps to go – just as Abel was starting to put pressure on Wurz, who was struggling on old tyres.

With two laps to go, van Hoepen attacked Abel, but the action was interrupted by Quinn's stationary car, which required the intervention of the safety car.

Charlie Wurz took his third win of the season – and importantly claimed back the points' leadership. Jacob Abel held off a brilliant van Hoepen for second, ahead of Leitch and van der Drift.

Despite an unfortunate first lap, Chloe Chambers finished P14, gaining two spots from her starting position. Breanna Morris was 17th.

Photo credits: Bruce Jenkins / Toyota GR New Zealand

The main event of the weekend followed in the afternoon: tension was rising on the starting grid, with series newcomer Laurens van Hoepen trying to keep focus and secure the prestigious win. On the other hand, the many Kiwi talents that had dreamt about finally winning this race had to find a way past the Dutch driver as well as Louis Foster, targeting the GP glory rather than championship ambitions. Reigning IndyPro 2000 champion Foster managed to get ahead of van Hoepen at the fast right-hander after the start, but the 17-year-old polesitter fought back at Turn 2 and made a move stick. From that moment, van Hoepen never looked back and, while he had to endure pressure from Foster, the Briton was never close enough to attempt another overtaking move. The leading duo opened a gap of over 10 seconds to third-placed Callum Hedge, who was also thinking about cutting back the lost points to Wurz. From third on the grid, Kaleb Ngatoa had a disappointing start and dropped to fourth. Chloe Chambers had a difficult start from 16th on the grid, but managed to recover her starting position on the second lap. Midway through the race, Chambers found herself battling with Adam Fitzgerald, and spent most of the 28-lap race trying to find a gap to overtake the Irishman. Morris initially had a brilliant start, drove around Fecury and slotted in P14, but would later settle in 18th position. The long race meant that drivers spent the first half of the race studying each other, as they evaluated their best passing opportunities; with ten laps to go, Brendon Leitch made a mistake and went off, losing fourth to van der Drift and rejoining just ahead of Fitzgerald and Chambers. Right behind Hedge, Ngatoa's attempt was unsuccessful and the two Kiwis made contact but both continued. A further mistake by Ngatoa allowed past van der Drift, who snatched fourth. The two leaders were now over ten seconds up the road; time was ticking down and Van Hoepen had it under control. The Dutchman converted pole position into race victory - the most important of his career so far, as he joins a list of world class racing legends. Louis Foster was second and Hedge, with third placed, narrowed the gap to Wurz for the championship to just 10 points. After a challenging weekend at Hampton Downs, Chloe Chambers finished her first New Zealand Grand Prix in P17, ahead of Breanna Morris in P18 - the latter once again having the upper hand on Brazilian Lucas Fecury.

“It was a great experience to be able to say I’ve raced in a NZGP" - Morris said. "Every round so far I’ve been progressing which has been a great step forward for me”

Despite having missed for the first time the top-10, Chambers still secured an encouraging P14 in race 2 in a bigger and highly competitive field; she retains tenth in the championship standings with 124 points. "Hampton Downs turned out to be quite a tricky track for racing and due to a disappointing qualifying as well as contact in race 2 that sent me to the back, I wasn’t able to make up as many spots as I would’ve wanted", Chambers told us after the weekend.

"We still have one more round to go at Taupo which I’m looking forward to as my driving has been improving every race", she continued. "Thanks to Giles Motorsport and Monoflo International for their support!" In a week's time, Formula Regional Oceania will head to Taupo International Motorsport Park, which will host the fifth and final round of the 2023 season.

Photo credits: Bruce Jenkins / Toyota GR New Zealand



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