Preview: Two women on the grid of the New Zealand GP
This weekend's 67th New Zealand Grand Prix will feature a record number of female entries: Chloe Chambers and Breanna Morris will take part in the flagship event of Formula Regional Oceania, aiming to add their name to the list of motorsport legends that have won the event since 1950. Discover more about the previous women that raced at the iconic race.
There's one event that drivers entering the Toyota Racing Series – now Formula Regional Oceania – inevitably focused on: the New Zealand Grand Prix, signature race of the popular championship that has attracted drivers from all over the world since its inaugural edition in 1950.
The Nez Zealand GP is in fact one of the only two events that still hold the "Grand Prix" nomenclature outside of the Formula 1 world championship and has developed its reputation through the decades similarly to the races of Macau and Pau.
First held in 1950 at Ohakea Circuit, a military air base, the event moved to some of New Zealand's most spectacular racing venues such as Ardmore, Pukekohe, Manfeild, Teretonga and, since 2021, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park.
The names written on the winners' books are nothing short of impressive: Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Chris Amon.
In the 70s, the event was part of the popular Tasman Series and Formula 5000 and continued to attract big fields of international up-and-coming stars such as Keke Rosberg – who would become F1 world champion less than 5 years later – Bobby Rahal, Teo Fabi.
In the 1980 edition, two-time South African Formula Ford Champion Desiré Wilson contested the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe Park, racing her March 77B Ford to eleventh place. In the same year, Wilson raced at the Macau Grand Prix, won a non-championship Formula 1 race at Brands Hatch and attempted to qualify for the British Grand Prix. She is to this day, one of the only five drivers to have entered a F1 event.
Female participation at the New Zealand Grand Prix became more consistent in the 2000s, as Christina Orr and Carmen Doran shared the grid in 2003 and 2004. Orr has been undoubtedly the most successful woman in the history of the event, having started in six editions, with a top five in 2004 and two sixth places in 2005 and 2007.
Orr – a hugely experienced racer in single seaters as well as GT and touring cars – again shared the field with Leanne Ferrier in 2007; the Australian would finish tenth, in a double top-ten for the two women on the grid. For 16 years, that remained the highest participation record for female drivers at the event.
Until 2023 – when Chloe Chambers and Breanna Morris will be equalling that record – and in an all-time first since the event is contested as part of the Toyota Racing Series.
Michela Cerruti and Tatiana Calderon wrote their names on the entry lists in 2012 and 2013 respectively – with the Colombian finishing in a convincing 13th place, among drivers of the likes of Lucas Auer, Alex Lynn, Nick Cassidy, Nicholas Latifi, Pipo Derani, Dennis Olsen.
The event, in fact, never failed to attract the best junior talents: alongside Kiwi racing stars Earl Bamber, Mitch Evans and Nick Cassidy, Lance Stroll and Lando Norris also claimed the prestigious trophy.
After Calderon's participation, though, we had to wait for ten years before another woman joined the grid – making the upcoming 67th edition even more special.
The Covid pandemic significantly hampered the event, which was limited to local drivers in 2021 and then cancelled in 2022 – but it is ready to make a return in spectacular style in 2023, with a full grid of international stars in the Toyota FT-60 car.
Joining the F.Regional Oceania regulars that have been battling out on track in the past three weeks at Highlands Motorsport Park, Teretonga and Manfeild, will be Chris van der Drift, Brendon Leitch, Laurens van Hoepen and Kaleb Ngatoa – who bring the entry list up to 20.
While Christina Orr-West - who will also be at Hampton Downs this weekend, racing in the support series Toyota 86 Championship – has certainly set the bar high, Chloe Chambers and Breanna Morris have good chances to showcase their talent at the fourth round of the championship, after consistently improving through the first part of the season.
Chambers, one of the four Americans on the grid, has been a consistent presence in the top-ten – which she missed in only one out of the nine completed so far – and has a personal best of fifth. After racing in W Series in 2022, Chambers opted for continuity at the wheel of the Formula Regional car, which is identical to the one used in the all-female championship.
The 18-year-old 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. Morris has finished P11 in four races – and will aim to break in the top-ten at Hampton Downs.
Both had the opportunity to test at the 3.800 km-long circuit before they committed to the series – but the weather could again be one of the talking points on the eve of the New Zealand Grand Prix. The first practice session was in fact a damp one, while the second one had to be halted for the worsening conditions.
The action will resume on Saturday for a F1-style qualifying: at the end of the first 15-minute session, positions will set the grid for race 1 – before a further 12-minute session for the 14 fastest drivers. At the end of the second session, drivers will be reduced to the top-8, who will contest the final 12-minute session battling for pole position for the GP.
A place in history among the greatest of the sport is at stake in Sunday's New Zealand Grand Prix - and for the first time in 16 years, two female drivers will be among the hopefuls.