RACE PREVIEW: The weekend of May 19th and 20th will see the first overseas races of the 2007 Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series. Rounds 5 and 6 will take place on the streets of Bucharest and at nearly 2000 miles, the Vodafone Bucharest Challenge event in the Romanian Capital will be the furthest that the British F3 grid has travelled in the 43-year history of the championship.
With three wins from four races Marko Asmer holds a healthy 34-point advantage over Stpehen Jelley and Maro Engel. The young Estonian was doubtful for the races due to his racing commitments in the Japanese F3 Championship the same weekend but he will now race in Bucharest to defend his British F3 series lead.
Maro Engel and Stephen Jelley are tied on 42 points each after the first four races. Engel is the only race winner from the 2006 season to challenge for the 2007 title. His win at Spa Francorchamps last July was matched in the opening round of the 2007 season at Oulton Park in England in a lights-to-flag victory. Stephen Jelley has three podium finishes in four starts but has yet to step onto the top step of a British F3 podium, something he will wish to do in Romania.
Jelley’s Raikkonen Robertson Racing teammate Jonathan Kennard is currently 4th in the championship and 5 points behind Jelley and Engel. The 2004 Formula Palmer Audi champion has scored in every race but, like Jelley, needs to take his first British F3 win to close the gap on the leading trio. With 32 championship points, reigning UK Formula Renault Champion Sebastian Hohethal is the leading rookie, with the Fortec driver smashing the lap record at Oulton Park in April on his debut British F3 race. A podium finish in Cheshire and another fastest lap at Donington Park in round 4 has marked the young Swede as a driver to watch in the coming months.
Britain’s Sam Bird is currently lying in 6th place in the championship and has been a consistent points scorer in his debut British F3 season. The Formula Renault graduate and 2006 McLaren Autosport Young Driver Award finalist will be looking for his first podium finish in Bucharest.
Bird’s Carlin Motorsport teammate is reigning UK Formula BMW champion Niall Breen and is another first year driver adapting quickly to the more powerful Formula 3 race car. The young Irishman held of the forceful challenge of Jonathan Kennard to finish in second at Donington Park and he travels to Romania in joint 7th place, tied with the younger of Nigel Mansell’s two sons Greg. 19-year-old Greg has scored points in every round this season, including a podium finish at Donington Park; the first time a Mansell has stood on a British F3 podium since 1979.
Venezuelan Rodolfo Gonzalez is the highest placed driver using the Mugen Honda engine in Romania, and the current British F3 National Class Champion is eager to show the type of pace that secured him last season’s title.
In the National Class Chinese driver Cong Fu ‘Frankie’ Cheng is the current championship leader following two wins and two fastest laps at Oulton Park at Easter. Britain’s Michael Meadows and Mexico’s Sergio Perez are his nearest rivals and a first and second place finishes for both drivers at Donington Park last month has closed the gap to Cheng.
Britain’s Alistair Jackson drove a great race at Donington to secure his first podium of 2007 and Viktor Jensen scored a double podium at Oulton Park at Easter. Bahrain’s Salman Al Khalifa became the first driver from his country to stand on the British F3 podium at Oulton Park after a superb drive from the back of the grid to secure the points.
Sean Petterson is moving up to the Championship Class with Fluid Motorsport in the team’s Mugen Honda powered Lola B06/30. The young South African scored a podium finish in the first race at Oulton Park, finishing second behind ‘Frankie’ Cheng and currently 6th in the National Class with 25 points. Petterson will race in the Championship Class for the rest of the season. Raikkonen Robertson Racing will be running a Dallara F306 Mercedes for Romanian karting champion Doru Sechelariu. The reigning British F3 championship winning team will be running the car in the Invitation Class against 16-year-old Max Chilton. With the addition of Michael Meadows to the team roster, Raikkonen Robertson Racing will be running a total of seven cars in Bucharest.
This will be the first time that any of the drivers have raced in Romania and will also be the first visit to the country by the majority of the British F3 paddock. Some of the drivers have given their thoughts on the upcoming races in Bucharest.
Maro Engel (#23 Carlin Motorsport Dallara F307 Mercedes HWA): A street circuit is always special. I've done Pau; I've done Macau so I'm really looking forward to Bucharest because, so far, all of the street circuits have been amazing. It's an amazing feeling to go racing in a city. It's great to go to an Eastern European country and race there. The other thing that will be great is it seems to be a very fast track, so, yes, I'm very much looking forward to it."
Stephen Jelley (#1 Raikkonen Robertson Racing Dallara F307 Mercedes HWA): "All street circuits are good, they have their own character. Obviously you can't make a mistake, you are close to the barriers and the feeling of speed is heightened by the fact you are enclosed and there is only one line and any deviation of that is expensive. I'm really looking forward to it, it'll be challenging. Bucharest is going to be an interesting venue, with the largest building in Europe in the centre of the circuit. It's a part of Europe I've never been to but is a place I’m looking forward to going."
Walter Grubmuller (#6 Hitech Racing Dallara F307 Mercedes HWA): "I've seen the layout on the internet and I think it will be a pretty exciting track to race on. It is going to be my first time in Romania and I'm excited about seeing a new place. I raced in Bilbao two years ago so i do have a little bit of experience racing on city streets. I think Bucharest should be a good venue.
Sam Bird (#3 Carlin Motorsport Dallara F307 Mercedes HWA): "I've never ever done a street race, so it's going to be a totally new experience for me, something I'll hopefully relish. Racing in Romania is absolutely brilliant, it's not only good for us in British F3, but for the country as well. My manager is Romanian so he is absolutely delighted and over the moon by this. I'm really looking forward to it, it should be great."
Seb Hohenthal (#5 Fortec Motorsport Dallara F307 Mercedes HWA): "I have no experience of racing on a street circuit so it's going to be a completely new experience for me. I'm going to try and learn as much as possible and stay away from the others as I've heard that there are lots of crashes on street circuits."
Niall Breen (#21 Carlin Motorsport Dallara F307 Mercedes HWA) : "I'm really looking forward to racing on the streets and getting used to it. I've a street race in karts before, in Monaco, but I haven't got much experience to draw on. The crowds are probably going to be close and there should be a big atmosphere, so it should be good."
Sean Petterson (#12 Fluid Motorsport Lola B06/30 Mugen Honda): "I'm really looking forward to the street part as I've never done a street race before. I've never actually watched a street race either, so it is going to be exciting for me. I know it is going to be tough but I see it as a challenge but hopefully I'll be able to do well there. It is also a circuit where no one has been before, so the playing ground is more equal, so I'm really looking forward to that. I've never been to Romania. A different culture and it is something to look forward to, it is going to be a great experience."
Round 5 of the 2007 Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series is due to start at 11:55 on Saturday 19th May, with Round 6 getting underway on Sunday 20th May at 10:45.
The Vodaphone Bucharest Challenge features Round 3 of the 2007 FIA GT Championship, with the FIA GT3 Championship and the Dacia Logan Cup also racing in Bucharest.
CLICK HERE to see the Provisional Event Timetable