Chloe Chambers takes historic victory at Taupo in F.Regional Oceania
"This win is a huge confidence boost and of course feels amazing" - with a spectacular victory and two more top-ten finishes to round out the Formula Regional Oceania championship, Chloe Chambers made history in Taupo.
After every storm there is always a rainbow.
Last weekend, American Chloe Chambers, 18, had the most challenging round in her otherwise extraordinarily positive Formula Regional Oceania campaign, as she failed to score points for the first time out of four weekends. One week later, Chambers stood on the top step of the podium, following a spectacular race 2 at Taupo that eventually proved her potential.
The final round of the 2023 Formula Regional Oceania championship - previously known as Toyota Racing Series - turned out to be an outstanding success for the young driver, only at her second year of Formula Regional machinery: a top five in her first weekend and a streak of seven consecutive top-ten finishes set the tone in the first part of the five-event season.
Chambers collected crucial track time, made big improvements every weekend, had brilliant starts and completed spectacular passes. She was always comfortable in the battles with more experienced drivers and, once learnt the challenges of New Zealand's tracks, she delivered.
While the Hampton Downs weekend turned out to be more challenging due to a difficult qualifying and a few contacts, Chambers still had the opportunity to race in the New Zealand Grand Prix, one of the most iconic events in junior single seaters. She shared the grid with Kiwi talent Breanna Morris - as they equalled the all time record for the most female participation at the event, which dates back to 1950.
With one more round to go, the teams headed to Taupo International Motorsports Park - a 14-turns 3.321 km circuit North-East of New Zealand's biggest lake.
In practice 2022 Formula Ford champion Breanna Morris found great speed and was for the first time well within the top ten, showing huge improvements throughout her first campaign in slick and wings cars.
Chambers' lap times equally proved that the young AMerican talent would once again be battling for the top ten: Chloe qualified tenth for race 1, just one second off pole sitter and championship contender Callum Hedge, as each driver was separated by hundredths of a second.
When the lights went out on Saturday afternoon, Hedge had the perfect start and kept the lead from Foster and van Hoepen - but chaos broke loose at turn 1, when the third championship contender, Jacob Abel, was tagged and spun around by David Morales. Abel's car was then blamelessly collected by James Penrose and Breanna Morris, who had taken the start from 16th place and was eyeing another recovery drive.
With all the cars suffering suspension damage, the red flag was deployed to clear the track.
Abel's DNF dropped the American out of the championship fight.
Chambers, who had another good launch, was trying to go around the outside - but was forced onto the grass to avoid the accident. Luckily, she could rejoin unscathed.
The race resumed behind the safety car: Hedge retained the lead from Foster and van Hoepen; Foster attacked the leader but had to back off on lap 2. Chambers could retake her starting position and moved into ninth - then quickly caught up with Mason.
Chambers knew that passing Mason would be crucial for Sunday's Race 2 starting position and kept the pressure on the Briton.
Ahead, Foster followed Hedge like a shadow, but couldn't find a way past. The Kiwi's focus, though, was mostly pointed towards his rival Charlie Wurz, in fifth place.
In the final laps, Foster was under the one second gap, but Hedge controlled the race and took his third win of the season, ahead of Foster and van Hoepen. With his win - and ninth podium - the New Zealander was back in the championship lead with 2 races to go.
Chloe Chambers was back in the top ten with a brilliant ninth, which then became eighth when Morales received a 30-second penalty for causing the collision at the first corner.
An eighth place that meant pole position for race 2.
On a colder and windier Sunday morning, Chloe Chambers became the first ever woman to start from pole position in the series' history. She shared the front row with Josh Mason, but she knew that she only had to look ahead and execute everything she is capable of, to add another chapter of motorsport history.
At lights out, Chambers had a great getaway; Mason dropped down the order, overtaken by Kaleb Ngatoa who was then side by side with Chambers coming into Turn 1. Chloe kept him honest and turned in the lead; she would never look back, despite the continuous pressure of her Giles Motorsport teammate.
Charlie Wurz was meanwhile up to third place, but the Austrian had to keep behind a very quick Ryan Shehan. Still eighth after the first laps, in fact, Hedge was struggling to move up the order and Wurz knew he had to gain every possible point on his rival.
On used tyres, the son of the former F1 driver had to work extra hard to hold off Shehan - as Chambers and Ngatoa opened a big gap to the rest of the pack.
Starting from P17, Breanna Morris moved up to 16th when Lucas fecury made a mistake and went across the gravel - luckily not causing the intervention of the Safety Car.
With now an over 10 second gap to Wurz, Ngatoa intensified the attacks on Chambers, but the American never cracked under pressure and, in the final laps, managed to pull away.
Not even a light rain could worry Chloe Chambers, who crossed the finish line after the most flawless 18 laps of her career and secured her first win in race cars.
“It feels really good and it’s also my first win in cars as well, so it feels great after everything this season” - she commented before the podium.
“At the beginning Kaleb [Ngatoa] was hanging with me and I know he tried a couple of times to get past but I just kept cool, kept putting in the laps and was able to do that all the way through the race and just build a little bit of a gap towards the end."
“It’s an important moment for my own confidence", she continued. "I’m going into the 2023 season with great confidence and to have my first win behind me is a great thing.”
A few hours after making series' history, Chloe Chambers was back behind the wheel of the Monoflo International-sponsored Tatuus, starting the feature race from P16 and just ahead of Breanna Morris in 17th.
It all came down to Race 3 - the championship decider - with Charlie Wurz back in the championship lead. And, from pole, Wurz was in the best position possible to secure the title - with his rival in fifth place and with 3 points to recover.
The race start looked like a replay of race 1: a multiple car tangle at race 1 ended with Fitzgerald being spun around by Morales and Chambers having to take to the grass to avoid damage. Sceats, meanwhile, had the best start from the first row, but couldn't quite jump ahead of Wurz, who defended the lead. The defensive action gave Laurens van Hoepen the opportunity to slot into second place.
Unlike Race 1, though, everyone could continue and there was no safety car neutralization. Breanna Morris had a stunning start and gained six positions to move up to P11.
Hedge completed a great pass on Ngatoa and was up to fourth, on a mission to catch back the leading trio. Liam Sceats' start was in fact a bit too good to be true and the M2 Competition driver was handed a 5 second penalty for a jump start. Hedge, on older tyres,
struggled to keep up the pace though.
Chambers overtook Fecury and climbed to P13, just as Morris attacked McLennan for tenth, in one of her strongest performances.
They moved ahead of Morales, who had to serve a drive through for the first lap contact, but both had to watch their mirrors from the return of Adam Fitzgerald. The Irishman got by Chambers - now on used tyres from race 2 - and then Morris, who slipped behind Chambers as well.
Ahead, van Hoepen put pressure on his teammate Wurz, but then fell back into the clutches of Sceats, as the Austrian gained a few crucial seconds.
Fitzgerald's recovery was halted when he found Quinn on his path: the two made contact which brought out the safety car - in a dramatic finale for the title battle. Both Chambers and Morris avoided the spinning cars ahead and gained two positions.
Again, a light rain fell from the grey sky; at the restart, Wurz held on - but Hedge's title chances were crushed by James Penrose, who found grip in the challenging mixed conditions and leapfrogged both Hedge and Sceats. Chambers also completed a bold move on Shehan on the back straight - a pass that would reveal crucial in the championship standings.
Hedge did manage to eventually get ahead of Sceats, but fourth was not enough to deny Charlie Wurz of his fourth victory and, most importantly, of the championship title.
Glued to the back of McLennan's car, Chloe Chambers came home with eighth place, showing remarkable pace to recover from 16th to 8th in the final race of the 2023 Formula Regional Oceania Championship.
"This win is a huge confidence boost and of course feels amazing" - Chloe told us.
"Overall, this experience has been great. I’ve learned so much and I’m sure it’ll come in handy for the rest of the season."
Having totalled 176 points, Chambers moved up to ninth place in the drivers' standings and secured one FIA Super Licence point. She is also only the fourth woman to ever clinch a win in a mixed-gender Formula Regional series, after Jamie Chadwick (F.Regional Asia), Ai Miura (F.Regional Japan) and Miki Koyama (F.Regional Japan).
"A final thank you to Giles Motorsport and Monoflo International for helping me close the CTFROC season out on a high with my first win in cars!"
Breanna Morris was P12, with a very solid race that summed up her progression in the very demanding Tatuus Toyota FT60 car. Hopefully, we will see Morris in the series again, as with experience of the machinery, the young Kiwi is likely to be a consistent contender.
Meanwhile, we will await news from both drivers, announcing their next programs in motor racing.