Chloe Chambers scores top five in F.Regional Oceania debut
In a highly promising debut in Formula Regional Oceania, Chloe Chambers scored three top-ten and completed the weekend on a high with her best result to date - a fifth place in the feature race at the challenging Highlands Motorsport Park.
The 2023 racing season has officially started, with the world of open wheel racing returning to New Zealand for the Toyota Racing Series – this year promoted to Formula Regional Oceania status – after a Covid-imposed hiatus.
One of the top winter-series for international racers preparing their campaigns, Formula Regional Oceania is back to a competitive field of young single-seater talents and will also award more Superlicence points.
American W Series driver Chloe Chambers will continue to extend her F3 Regional experience and joined Giles Motorsport for the whole 2023 campaign in the Toyota FT-60 machine, also previously used by the all-female championship W Series in Barcelona and Singapore.
Chambers enjoyed a trip to New Zealand in September, when she had the opportunity to complete a four-day test in Hampton Downs as well as a test day in Taupo – showing good speed in what will be her third year in race cars. With the help of her sponsor Monoflo International, the young American therefore decided to join the field for the full 5-event schedule.
Alongside Chambers, local talent Breanna Morris also joined the ranks of Giles Motorsport, becoming the eighth woman to ever enter the championship.
On her route to her 2022 North Island Formula Ford title, Morris claimed five wins and also finished fourth overall in the national championship. Her transition to the high-downforce Tatuus Regional car will require some adaptation, but she certainly proved her talent and skills to quickly learn the machinery.
18-year old New Zealander Callum Hedge (M2 Competition) claimed a surprise pole position on Saturday, preceding David Morales and Josh Mason on the grid of race 1 at Highlands Motorsport Park, opening round of the 2023 championship.
Chambers set a 1:29.645 that put her in 10th place, with Morris P13 on the grid.
At lights out, Hedge was not caught off guard and retained the lead into Turn 1, ahead of Charlie Wurz – who had a brilliant getaway from fourth – Morales and Mason. Hedge was clearly the fastest driver on track and soon extended his gap in the lead by over two seconds on lap 3. Most drivers held their positions on the opening laps, as Breanna Morris advanced to P11 after Lucas Fecury and Tom McLennan were forced to start from the pitlane – the former for causing a red flag in qualifying, while the Australian for stalling on the formation lap.
In the midfield, Ryan Shehan and Jacob Abel had a tight battle for position; after putting pressure on his compatriot, Abel eventually got the move done with a clean pass and climbed to sixth. One lap later, though, Shehan tried to fight back and went off at the Southern Loop, damaging the front suspension and requiring the intervention of the Safety Car with 3 laps to go.
There was unfortunately not enough time to clear Shehan's car in time for a restart, and Callum Hedge claimed a dominant victory, with pole position and fastest lap to go along.
Charlie Wurz was able to save his tyres and defend second place from the fast charging David Morales, who had tried to find a way past the Austrian before the race neutralization.
Similarly, Chloe Chambers was glued to the rear wing of James Penrose's Kiwi Motorsport Tatuus for most of the opening race, but she had to settle for a nevertheless positive ninth place that gained Chambers her first points in the series.
Breanna Morris was P12 across the line, after battling with Fecury and McLennan.
A second 15-minute qualifying session opened Sunday's track activities: Callum Hedge picked up where he left off and, after a late run in the session, he scored the second pole position of the weekend, valid for the feature race. He would be joined on the front row by David Morales, while Wurz and Sceats secured the third and fourth grid slots.
Chloe Chambers rounded out the top ten – and was ready to make further progress in the following races.
Coming up next was the reverse-grid Race 2, which featured James Penrose – eighth at the chequered flag in Race 1 – taking to the front of the pack ahead of Ryder Quinn and Jacob Abel.
While Penrose's clean start allowed the Castrol-sponsored machine to retain the lead, Quinn once again struggled to get away and lost second to Abel. A few cars cut to the grass at the Bus Stop Chicane but everyone made it through safely during the first lap. Chloe Chambers had a blistering start and gained two positions to move into seventh place, while Breanna Morris, 12th on the grid, traded places with Brazilian Lucas Fecury.
Penrose had started to build a gap, just before the #23 of Liam Sceats hit the concrete wall having slipped on the grass after the Bus Stop chicane on lap 2. The Safety Car was deployed and Penrose had to start from scratch at the restart on lap 5.
He led the pack into Turn 1, while Wurz made a brilliant move stick on Morales for fourth. Chloe Chambers was also right in the slipstream of Callum Hedge; the American kept the pressure on but couldn't find a way past the race 1 dominator.
Jacob Abel initially made up ground on the race leader Penrose, but with Wurz and Quinn also battling, Penrose eventually opened up a safe gap and checked out.
With 6 laps to go, Chambers had closed in again with Hedge and, just as she was preparing a move, Josh Mason took a chance and lunged on the inside, eventually passing Chloe for seventh.
With a comfortable lead of over 8 seconds, James Penrose claimed his first ever win in TRS Formula Oceania championship, ahead of Abel and Quinn – after a hectic final lap which saw Hedge attempting a late move on Morales for fifth place. It would be the American M2 Competition driver to come home with P5, ahead of Hedge, Mason and Chambers.
Chloe Chambers, though, clinched seventh after Mason was hit with a 5-second time penalty for a jump start that demoted him to P8. Chambers therefore secured her best result so far with a very promising Race 2, showing significantly improved pace compared to the previous days.
As she kept learning the physical Tatuus Toyota FT60 machine, Breanna Morris was P12.
The feature race awarded the Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup. David Morales had the best possible start and snatched the lead way before the braking of the Bus Stop chicane, surprising polesitter Callum Hedge. Charlie Wurz defended from Sceats, followed by Abel, Mason and Chambers – who had another fantastic first lap, gaining three places. The leading duo tried to pull away, with Hedge continuing to put pressure on Morales, lap after lap of the technical and demanding Highlands Motorsports Park circuit. Another exciting battle saw Mason and Abel banging wheels at Turn 10; Mason missed his apex and hit Abel, with both cars going around in the grass. While both rejoined, Chloe Chambers was quick to snatch fifth. Meanwhile, Breanna Morris was also having a good race further back: the kiwi racer hunted down and overtook Fecury with a clean pass that gained her 12th place. After an uneventful first part of the race, chaos broke loose with 14 laps to go, with several on track battles providing plenty of action. McLennan, Shehan and Penrose went three wide, after Shehan had found his way past McLennan – and with Breanna Morris closing in on Mason not far behind. There was more drama two laps later, when leading contender Callum Hedge had to pit with rear suspension damage. Now alone in the lead, Morales had a significant 6 second margin to Wurz and Sceats – with Chloe Chambers battling with Quinn for fourth. Quinn got ahead of Chambers, but had not enough time to catch Sceats for the final podium spot. Breanna Morris was the protagonist of a positive third race and, having caught up with Mason and McLennan, she tried to go around the outside of the Australian, but ultimately had to back off. Unfortunately, she went off in the gravel a few laps later, rejoining after a pit stop to check for potential damages. After an action-packed Race 3, David Morales took his first formula victory and claimed the Dorothy Smith Memorial Cup, preceding Charlie Wurz – who survived a late trip to the gravel to still finish second. Chloe Chambers' progression session after session was so significant that the 18-year-old American completed her first weekend in FR Oceania with her first top-five finish, equalling the best result for a female driver in the series since 2013, when Tatiana Calderon secured a fifth place at Taupo. "Highlands is quite a tricky and technical track so it took a lot of work to learn it", Chloe told us after the opening weekend. "The Giles Motorsport team and I made some really good, steady improvements throughout the weekend and I moved up from my starting spot in every race." Chambers – who suffered from blisters on her hands – still kept her cool and lapped a few tenths off the race leader. "Each time on track was getting better and to have P9, P7, and P5 finishes in the end shows how we progressed", Chambers continued. "Looking forward to Teretonga in just a few days! Thanks to Giles Motorsport, Stephen Giles, my engineer and mechanics, and Monoflo International for making it all happen!" Breanna Morris completed her rookie weekend with in P11. "I’m using each opportunity on track which allows me to gain more and more confidence in the car" – Morris said, as she also looks forward to the upcoming round at Teretonga in a week's time.