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Ngatoa wins Grand Prix build-up race at Hampton Downs

Marton bred Kiwi Kaleb Ngatoa won the opening 20-lap race of the New Zealand Grand Prix weekend at Hampton Downs – part of the Super Sprint MotorSport New Zealand Championship racing series.

The first of three races for the Grand Prix weekend it is Ngatoa’s first start for the 2023 season. A late addition to the 2023 Castrol Toyota Formula Regional Oceania Championship (CTFROC) he finished 0.727sec ahead of second placed Laurens van Hoepen, with Callum Hedge third.

Powering from second place on the grid Ngatoa seized the lead at the opening turn. During his time at the front he bettered the previous lap record set by Shane van Gisbergen, lowering it to 1m30.299sec.

Hedge’s third placing noses him into the lead of the series, ahead of previous leader Charlie Wurz. The Austrian finished in eighth position to now trail Hedge by three points.

“I practiced my starts – that was my flaw from last year,” described 21-year-old Ngatoa of his big break away from the line.

“I focussed on that, and as a boy from Marton just hustle hustled and got there.

“It’s another big day tomorrow so a good night’s rest and be ready for the Grand Prix.”

While finishing in second place, Netherlands based van Hoepen is the marked driver for Sunday’s 28-lap Grand Prix. Setting fastest time in the new format qualifying, it became a session of revolving leaders. Second fastest was Brit Louis Foster with Kiwi’s Ngatoa and Hedge third and fourth respectively.

“We have to maximise that pole position and we will be sweet for the race,” described van Hoepen after the 17-year-old struggled with the start of today’s race.

There are a total of eight categories packing the Hampton Downs pit paddock area – each completing qualifying and an opening race for the weekend. The day’s concluding feature was the Valvoline D1NZ drift series, bringing fans to line the perimeter fencing for a series of elimination runs.

Sunday’s racing reduces to seven categories: Golden Homes GT NZ series, TradeZone GTRNZ, Central Muscle Cars, Toyota 86, Hi Q Formula First and NAPA Formula Ford – which includes former V8 Supercar driver Greg Murphy.

The focus then shifts to the 28-lap race for the New Zealand Grand Prix. A total of 20 Toyota FT-60 cars will take to the start grid – to find the 67th name to be etched onto the trophy.

The race build-up starts at 3:47pm with the start scheduled for 4:07pm.

The days racing will be televised live on Sky Sport 5 and Fox Sport Australia (as well as Pasifika TV). Coverage begins at 8:30am through to 5:30pm. TV3 will broadcast from 1pm Sunday to 5:00pm.

Tickets can be pre-purchased online with gate sales also available.

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