The Toyota Formula Regional Oceania grid expanded ahead of the New Zealand GP and at Manfeild, third round of the championship, Chloe Chambers secured her seventh and eighth top ten finishes in the series. Breanna Morris was once again just outside the top-10, performing well in the challenging weather conditions.
The Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania championship headed to Manfeild, Circuit Chris Amon, for the third round of the five-event season that sees the return of the popular championship to a full grid of international racing up-and-coming stars to New Zealand after the Covid restrictions.
Bad weather dominated the weekend, as rain defined the first day of track activities.
The grid expanded with a few more drivers and a new team, which brought the field up to 16 cars: Billy Frazer and Hamilton Motorsport joined the championship, as well as USF Pro 2000 champion Louis Foster and Adam Fitzgerald with Giles Motorsport.
At her third year in single seaters – and her second in Formula Regional machinery – Chloe Chambers has been one of the protagonists of the first part of the championship. The American, who was one of the most consistent rookies in last year's W Series, continued the trend and scored top ten finishes in all the races of the first two rounds.
Chambers had another strong start at Manfeild, as she set the fifth fastest time in the first practice, only one tenth of a second off the pacesetter. With very limited experience in wet weather racing, Chloe had more learning chances and still delivered good results.
North Island Formula Ford champion Breanna Morris has been on a consistent learning path as well, as she continued to learn the high-downforce machinery.
Charlie Wurz took pole in the wet first qualifying, preceding newcomer Louis Foster, Ryder Quinn and Jacob Abel; Wurz's main contender in the championship so far, Callum Hedge, was only sixth - which gave Wurz the opportunity to try to extend his championship lead.
In a sea of water spray, cars were underway at the 3.030 km circuit in the Northern Island: Wurz kept the lead from Foster - but Hedge was soon up into third place with one of the most impressive starts of the year. McLennan was off in the gravel at Turn 1 but rejoined at the back of the field, as everyone struggled for visibility. Chloe Chambers gained one position over the first lap and Morris, 16th on the grid, moved up to P14.
Wurz was under immense pressure from Foster, who was clearly the faster driver on track. Foster attacked around the outside of Turn 1 on the third lap and a beautiful wheel to wheel battle followed - only to be interrupted by Liam Sceats' off track excursion that brought out the Safety Car.
Foster had another go when the race resumed - and the Briton made a move stick at the first corner of lap 9, soon pulling away from the Austrian, who was left defending from Hedge. Chloe Chambers meanwhile was really consistent and managed to get in the top ten, having passed Mason and Fitzgerald, after the latter went off in the grass. Breanna Morris also kept her nose clean and climbed to 12th.
Fitzerald's first race in FROC ended on lap 13, when the #36 Giles Motorsport's Tatuus got stuck in the gravel and required another safety car intervention.
Foster was unchallenged at the restart, Morales overtook Penrose for sixth place and Breanna Morris had a good battle with McLennan, who could ultimately gain the spot.
Conditions were really challenging and both Frazer and Quinn went off on the final lap. But there were no mistakes for Louis Foster, as the British racer made his Formula Regional Oceania debut in spectacular style and won race one over Charlie Wurz and Callum Hedge. Wurz, though, was handed a penalty after the race that demoted the championship leader to ninth place. Jacob Abel therefore scored his third podium of the season. With Hedge's second place, Wurz's lead in the points standings was down to 16 points.
Chloe Chambers had another very solid race in the top ten - her seventh consecutive one in the series - and finished eighth.
"Manfeild was quite the challenge with the changing weather conditions but it made for some great learning", Chambers told us. "I don't have any experience racing a car in the wet so I had to learn how to do a standing start in the wet as well as deal with lots of spray from the cars in front."
Breanna Morris equalled her best result of the season so far with a P11 that gets the New Zealander consistently closer to her first top-ten.
Eighth-place finisher Ryan Shehan started from pole in the reverse grid race 2 on Sunday morning – but the driver of the #66 Giles Motorsport Tatuus was beaten off the line by Josh Mason, who went on to build a gap.
The star of the show, though, was Louis Foster, who could navigate through the field from seventh and, after passing Callum Hedge and David Morales, he hunted down Jacob Abel – who he would eventually clear on lap 8 with a move around the outside of the final corner after a couple of laps-long battle. The American fought back, but eventually had to give up the position.
That delay possibly cost Foster the chance to fight for the win, as Mason had pulled away from Shehan. While it was arguably Shehan's best race of the season to date, he quickly had his mirrors full of series newcomer Louis Foster, who made a move stick and then targeted race leader Josh Mason.
An equally exciting battle for sixth place saw Charlie Wurz overtaking championship rival Callum Hedge on lap 12. From tenth on the grid, Wurz was focused keeping Hedge behind and, once ahead, he settled in sixth place.
There were more chances for another top ten for Chloe Chambers, who lined up in eleventh place on the grid. Unfortunately, a rare mistake at the start meant that Chambers slipped down the order and could not recover further than P14.
In the final stages, Foster was right behind his compatriot for the lead of the race. Mason, though, endured the pressure and did not put a foot wrong, winning his first race of the year. Foster's great charge was halted just before he could take the win, half a second behind Mason. Ryan Shehan claimed his second podium in third and preceded Jacob Abel and James Penrose.
Without many opportunities to recover, Chloe Chambers was 14th.
"Race two was dry and I was only able to finish in P14 after a mistake right at the start cost me to lose those positions." – she summed up.
Breanna Morris also had a challenging race and took the chequered flag in 16th position. However, they would have one more chance later on in the day, for the Dan Higgins Trophy event.
Charlie Wurz had the opportunity to make up for the unfortunate start of the weekend with another pole position on Sunday morning, ahead of Louis Foster. Morales and Penrose shared the second row, as Hedge and Mason started further behind. Chambers was also looking for redemption after missing out on an eighth top-10 finish in race 2, and would have to gain four more places in race 3 to do so.
After the dry second race, drivers lined up on the grid of the feature race on slicks once again - but very light spits rain did eventually make its appearance on the formation lap. Wurz had the perfect launch from pole, as Hedge was up to fourth.
Like in most of the races this season, Chloe Chambers had a strong start and gained two spots - before Mason and Shehan made contact on the second lap, which sent Shehan on a spin and damaged the race 2 winner's front suspension. Chambers was prompt to take evasive action and took to the outside line, soon moving into tenth place. Breanna Morris was not far behind: the talented Kiwi went from 14th to 12th on the opening lap.
Chambers closed in on Fitzgerald, but not quite enough to make a move.
Ahead, Charlie Wurz and Louis Foster pulled away and opened a gap to Penrose, who sat in third quite comfortably.
Just as positions seemed settled, Foster tried to take advantage from a lockup from Wurz - and the two leaders ended up colliding in dramatic fashion. Wurz was hit and went around, but was quickly back underway now down in sixth, with Foster seventh. The Brit, though, received a drive through penalty for the contact.
James Penrose found himself in the lead, ahead of Hedge and Sceats.
In the Castrol entry, James Penrose took his second win of the year in the feature race at Manfeild. Hedge continued to shorten the gap to Wurz in the standings with second.
From 15th on the grid, Chloe Chambers crossed the finish line in ninth place - in her eighth top-10 in Formula Regional Oceania.
Breanna Morris also made up four places to finish P12, as she continues to make big progress round after round in the very demanding Toyota FT-60 car.
"In race three, I continually worked on my driving and was running some pretty quick times at the end of the race to finish P9 from a P14 starting position", Chambers said.
The drivers are now gearing up for the signature race of the championship: the New Zealand Grand Prix – an event first held in 1950.
"Feeling super excited and confident for the upcoming New Zealand Grand Prix at Hampton Downs, a track I have experience on already. Can't thank Giles Motorsport and Monoflo International enough for the support and encouragement throughout these last few weeks!"