Callum Hedge wins TQF shoot-out
Auckland driver Callum Hedge received his 'best birthday present ever' after he was announced the winner of the Tony Quinn Foundation shoot-out, and $70,000 towards his debut in next year's Toyota Racing Series.
Hedge, who is about to turn 19, headed off two other finalists at Hampton Downs to win the TQF prize-purse in a tightly fought contest.
"It couldn't come at a better time. The only other good birthday present I had was driving a Porsche for the first time on my birthday, at Pukekohe, the day before I got my road licence," said Hedge.
"It was such a cool day to be involved with all the Tony Quinn Foundation trustees and Tony Quinn himself, he joined in from Australia on zoom which was cool. I hadn't spoken to him formally before, so it was great to meet the guy who's doing so much for motorsport in New Zealand."
Hedge was awarded the TQF grant ahead of Liam Sceats, 17, and Billy Frazer, 19, in a winner-take-all shoot-out.
"The day was really competitive. Liam and Billy did an excellent job. I was sitting up in the lounge with the stop-watch all day," said Hedge. "I was pretty happy with how my quallie simulation went and my race run was pretty good and I knew I'd put my best foot forward and it was going to be hard to beat. I'm just really thankful that the trustees picked me."
TQF trustee Greg Murphy was impressed with the trio. The former V8 Supercar star said it highlighted the quality of driving talent and skill-set of New Zealand racers.
"The quality we have is deep. All three guys were very professional and drove very well, making the job to pick a winner very difficult. For the qualifying and then the outright speed, there was only tenths [of-a-second] between them. It was very, very tight.
"For Liam, a young man making the step up to this car proved that he's definitely got plenty of skill and ability and deserves to be taken very seriously. And Billy showcased his experience well.
"Callum just showed a little more consistency of his speed and just showed a very slight advantage in speed and all the facets of the shoot-out. But we're talking about very small margins. And at this moment it was Callum that outshone the other two," said Murphy.
Prior to joining the 2023 Toyota Racing Series, Hedge is most familiar with racing and winning in Porsche GT3 cars in Australia. But he has won a single-seater championship before. Hedge became the world's youngest-ever Formula Ford champion in 2018. So does this mean a switch back to open-wheel racing?
"TRS is something that I've really wanted to do for a longtime. I've watched the series over the years. I was never old enough to compete in it and for the two years when I was old enough the series didn't happen, so it's been a longtime coming and I'm looking forward to giving it my best shot, said Hedge.
After a two-year hiatus due to Covid restrictions, TRS returns for five weeks of back-to-back racing in January 2023 with international drivers making a return to the series, largely from America and Europe.
"It's proven time and time again that regardless of what you're aiming to achieve in racing, whether it be V8 Supercars, IndyCars, Formula 1 or GT endurance racing, TRS is a huge stepping stone and keeps you sharp, helps you up your game and you also get to race against some of the best in the world, right at home and around your friends and family."
The Porsche ace, who's also won the Toyota 86 saloon championship,says driving the TRS car has some similarities to his GT3.
"They're totally different machinery but in some ways they're actually very similar, like the engine's in the back, the TRS feels in some respects similar to my 992 Porsche in the way that the weight transfers as you're going through a corner. In a single-seater your inputs have to be a little more refined, and the inputs have more effect on the TRS than the Porsche. You really need to make sure you hit your marks every time and you really focus on making sure the braking pressure's right and as soon as that's right the car's normally pretty settled."
Hedge, like all the finalists, came to the shoot-out from the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy with only a few days of TRS tuition.
"The academy does provide a very good platform for anyone who wants to test their skills and see how they compare to other people in a similar situation," said Murphy.
Along with Murphy and Quinn, fellow trustees Steve Horne and Josie Spillane were joined by HDNZRA's chief instructor Daniel Gaunt, who coordinated the day on behalf of the TQF.
"The day ran seamlessly, like clockwork and everyone got three sessions, familiarisation, qualifying and a race run. The cars ran faultlessly and provided an even, hard fought and very close competition. Toyota [Gazoo Racing] provided the cars. They run the world-class TRS series and they gave us a world-class day," said Gaunt.
There hasn't been an actual shoot-out in recent years and Murphy says it was a special day.
"We as a group, Tony, Josie, Daniel, Steve and I are very proud to be able to offer this opportunity and support talent moving forward. It's a highlight in our year to be part of this, a very rewarding process. It's great to have two this year and have them operate and conclude in the way they were intended."
The TRS shoot-out follows on from the TQF Toyota 86 shoot-out held last week. Blenheim teenager William Exton received a $37,500 cash prize towards the one-make saloon car championship.
Caption: TQF finalists (left-to right) Liam Sceats, Billy Frazer and Callum Hedge.