Callum Hedge to race FR Americas
After coming agonisingly close to winning the Formula Regional motor racing title in New Zealand recently, Callum Hedge is about to launch a bid to win the American based championship which starts next weekend in Louisiana.
The 19-year-old Aucklander finished runner-up in the Castrol Toyota FR Oceania championship last month with his pole setting and race winning performances capturing the attention of both Tony Quinn and Richard Giltrap. The two have now joined forces with the Tony Quinn Foundation and the Giltrap Group supporting his American entry.
Hedge, who raced and won a championship in Formula Ford, hasn't driven a single-seater car for three years before racing in the Toyota series but after two days of practice he was immediately at the front and put in a strong challenge to win the championship, which went down to the wire over the last four or five laps of the 15-raceseries.
"Come Highlands I wasn't too sure what to expect, but when I went out onto the track it all just felt natural," Hedge reflected. "It was quite confidence inspiring to feel at home in a single-seater for the first time in a while. And it felt comfortable for the next five weeks."
"It felt like I was almost better in the single-seater than I am in the Porsche, in terms of consistency and lap pace which was really interesting."
Over the past three years Hedge has been a front-runner in Porsche Carrera Australia and will return to the series again this year backed by the Giltrap Group.
"The US series is an addition to Porsche and a quite different path, but it's nice to be able to do both and have the option of continuing with single-seaters. We have a lot of doors open, a lot of opportunity and it's just about maximising both," he added.
In FR Americas Hedge will race for Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport which is co-run by New Zealander Gary Orton and competes in both Formula 4 and Formula 3 championships. The team also fields drivers in the New Zealand summer series and while the local cars use an FIA F3 chassis manufactured by Tatuus SRL in Italy with a Toyota engine, the American series uses a Ligier JS chassis and Honda power.
"The Formula Regional Americas chassis is built to the same regulations as the FT-60 we have here, so I expect it to be different but the same in a number of ways," said Hedge prior to testing.
The biggest advantage for the versatile Kiwi racer is both series use the same Hankook specification tyre which Hedge developed a good understanding of over the New Zealand series.
"I think I had a pretty good handle on how the tyre worked in TRS. That was one of our biggest advantages, we knew how to bring it in properly and I could feel the peak of the tyre, so it's really nice to have a bit of familiarity. At the end of the day that's one of the most important things, that's what makes you grip so if you can understand the tyres you're in a pretty good spot."
Tony Quinn Foundation trustee Steve Horne is familiar with the American open-wheel racing scene having owned and managed his own IndyCar team and was quick to also spot the ultimate prize if Hedge can win the FR Americas series. The championship winner receives a drive in Japanese Super Formula with a Honda-backed team, the same series in which fellow TQF and Giltrap Group sponsored driver Liam Lawson will make his debut next month.
"This is a joint venture between the Giltrap Group and TQF to send Callum on an exploratory trip to the US to run in the first round of FR Americas with the intent of doing the whole season," said Horne.
"But all credit to both Tony Quinn and Richard Giltrap in both having the same mindset, they're both already supporting Callum and this is a logical extension. If he's going to go offshore we need to combine our forces. We all felt that he deserved to continue on this pathway and it has a wonderful prize on offer at the end of it."
Horne admits the route through FR Americas and Super Formula is a slightly different pathway to the top of open-wheel racing, but it proved to be a success for Alex Palou who finished third in Japan and then went on to win the IndyCar championship soon after.
For the Giltrap Group, Richard says they're very happy to continue their association with Callum and he's delighted to join with the TQF and Steve Horne, "who has pulled this opportunity together."
Hedge only entered into Formula Regional racing after winning the TQF scholarship to race in the Toyota-based series in New Zealand and is grateful to extend the partnership.
"Very cool to have TQF onboard again. Obviously they made my TRS programme possible, and the same again for the USA. Without their support and guidance there's no chance I can go and race over there so I'm very thankful to Tony Quinn, all the trustees, Steve, Josie [Spillane], Greg Murphy and John Gordon for all they do for me. And I'm delighted to have Richard and the Giltrap Group behind this as well. I'll be working hard to try and make them proud," said Hedge ahead of next weekend's opening round for FR Americas at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana.
With a year ahead of racing both a tin-top and a single-seater, does he have a preference for which car he likes racing best?
"I just like driving every car at the end of the day, I don't really care what it is, I just love racing and the more I drive the better. I don't care if it's a SsangYong [Ute], Toyota 86, FT-60, IndyCar, F1 car or a Porsche. My only ambition is to become a professional driver."
Caption: Callum Hedge
Photo Credit: Geoff Ridder