Oulton Park Preview: Grid Full of Cars for Season Opener
With the start of the 2007 Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series this weekend at Oulton Park in Cheshire, the number of entries for this year’s championship has grown to 33, a 40% increase on 2006.
The British F3 Series will also live up to its 'International' title, with 20 countries from six regions across the globe represented within the 33 entries. The array of international drivers have come to the UK to further their motor racing careers because they know that if they do well in British F3 doors will open as they progress towards the ultimate goal of a seat in Formula One.
To emphasis the importance of British F3, reigning champion Mike Conway has moved up to compete in the GP2 series this season, which races at all of the European F1 Grand Prix. He has also just announced that he has signed up with the Honda F1 race team as an official test driver. 2006 championship runner up Oliver Jarvis has just become the first driver to win an A1GP race for Team GB in Mexico and Bruno Senna, nephew of the late Ayrton Senna, will also compete in the 2007 GP2 series. Since 1964 drivers from British F3 have won 18 Formula One World driver titles and 13 of the current crop of drivers employed by the F1 teams have British F3 on their CV.
The Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series is divided into two classes. The leading Championship Class will feature 22 of the latest Formula 3 cars from Dallara, Mygale and Lola and will be powered by a two litre Mercedes or Mugen-Honda engine. There will be 20 cars in the class for the opening two races at Oulton Park this weekend.
15-year-old Max Chilton will have to watch from the sidelines as the 2006 T Car championship runner up has to wait for his 16th birthday on the 21st April to be eligible for his International C race licence. However he is due to join the grid for rounds 3 & 4 at the Leicestershire circuit on April 22nd. The other absentee will be Cristiano Morgado as the South African National Class graduate has only had one test in his Fluid Motorsport Lola and will also join the 2007 grid at Donington later this month.
The championship appears to be wide open with Marko Asmer and Stephen Jelley taking the lead in pre season testing. However they will face stiff opposition from reigning Formula Renault Champion Sebastian Hohenthal, 2004 FPA Champion Jonathan Kennard and 2006 British F3 race winner Maro Engel who will test at Oulton Park for the first time in his Carlin Motorsport prepared Dallara Mercedes.
Other notable challengers for the 2007 title will be the 2006 British F3 National Class Champion Rodolfo Gonzalez, McLaren Autosport Award nominee Sam Bird, reigning Formula BMW champion Niall Breen, 2005 South American F3 Champion Alberto Valerio and last, but not least, the two Mansell brothers, Leo and Greg, who both impressed at the final two races of last season at Thruxton and have been quick in pre season testing. Such is the depth of talent in this field that 2007 promises to be one of the most closely fought championships in years.
The National Class, which is run for older F3 cars and are all powered by the same 2 litre Mugen Honda engine, has been boosted to 11 cars for 2007, an 85% increase on last season. Chinese driver 'Frankie' Cheng and Bahraini Salman Al Khalifa signed on the eve of the official launch of the championship to drive for Performance Racing and Promatecme respectively. The National Class is a proving ground for graduates to British F3 from the lower racing formula and is often seen as a stepping stone to the more powerful Championship cars the following season.
In the recent 2-day test at Croft Cheng was the fastest National class driver, with Mexican Sergio Perez, Northern Ireland’s Alistair Jackson, Formula BMW graduate Michael Meadow, who topped the class time in the last 4 hour test at Oulton Park, and Formula Palmer Audi Championship runner up Viktor Jensen all posting times that suggest a closely fought championship in 2007. However 16-year-old Spaniard Albert Costa, Britain’s Alex Waters and the two Bahraini drivers Hamad Al Fardan and 2005 Formula BMW Asia Champion Salman Al Khalifa will all be there once the green flag signals the start of the season at Oulton Park on Easter Monday.
The 22 round series kicks off at Oulton Park on Easter Monday (9th April) and will visit the major circuits in the UK. Three European destinations are included in the schedule with a street race in the Romanian capital city of Bucharest and races on the GP circuits of Monza and Spa.