PREVIEW: This weekend at Rockingham Motor Speedway near Corby the final curtain call will take place for the 2007 Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series, with plenty of entertaining race action in prospect during the first races for the Series at the Northamptonshire venue since 2003.
Five of the teams taking part in the UK’s premier single seater race series are based in Northamptonshire, including the 2007 championship winning teams Hitech Racing (Silverstone) and T-Sport (Brackley).
Hitech Racing’s Marko Asmer arrives at Rockingham as the new Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series Champion after scoring his tenth win of the season at Croft last time out. The Estonian now joins a unique group of drivers who have won this prestigious title including Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet (both Sr and Jr), Emerson Fittipaldi and Mika Hakkinen to name but a few. With no championship title up for grabs we can expect an action packed finale on a brand new circuit that has been noted for its overtaking opportunities.
While Asmer has been the dominant force this year, he certainly hasn’t had everything his own way with seven other drivers winning races in 2007. Germany’s Maro Engel, in his second season of British F3, was the main rival to Asmer with wins at Oulton Park and Monza. Further podiums at Silverstone, Thruxton and Spa underlined the young German’s speed but his challenge for the 2007 title ended up in the gravel trap at Croft after a clash with team mate Niall Breen.
Leicester’s Stephen Jelley finally stepped onto the top step of the podium at Thruxton after three years of trying. He liked the view so much he decided to do it again at Croft after Marko Asmer’s Mercedes engine let go. With Jelley targeting a move to GP2 a win at Rockingham would be a fitting end to his four year British F3 career.
Sam Bird from Surrey is the top rookie in this year’s series. The Formula Renault graduate has taken wins on the streets of Bucharest and at Spa and seven further podiums have made Bird one of the star finds of the 2007 season. Mechanical woes dented his overall title hopes but a second place at Croft put him back where he belonged.
Like his Carlin team mate Sam Bird, 2006 Formula BMW Champion Niall Breen has been a race winner in his debut season, taking the chequered flag at Snetterton. The 21-year-old Irishman was very quick at Croft and Thruxton, scoring two second place finishes, and is confident of finishing his first season of Formula 3 with another podium.
Kent’s Jonathan Kennard was another long term driver to finally score his debut win this year. The 2004 Formula Palmer Audi Champion splashed to his first win in the rain at Spa from pole position, after setting a new Formula 3 lap record at the home of the Belgian Grand Prix in the opening race of the weekend. A further podium finish at Thruxton followed.
Carlin Motorsport’s Alberto Valerio is the first driver in the top 10 who hasn’t taken a win this year. The 2005 South American Formula 3 Champion has had a topsy turvy season with four podium finishes punctuated by mechanical failure and non finishes due to on track clashes. A fourth place at Croft was the Brazilians best finish since Monza and expect huge smiles if he can finish the season with a podium.
18-year-old Atte Mustonen spent the first part of the year finding his feet but when he did the rest of the grid had to take notice. He scored his first podium at Brands Hatch and three more followed, including a win at Thruxton. With pole positions and fastest laps to his name, don’t surprised to see the # 26 Dallara at the sharp end of the field at Rockingham.
The British F3 roll of honour abounds with famous names from the world of motor racing. Nigel Mansell competed in the championship in 1977 to 1979 and this year his sons, Leo and Greg, brought the Mansell name back to the British F3 grid with Daventry-based team Fortec Motorsport. In only his second full season of racing, Greg Mansell has scored three podium finishes against strong opposition with many more years of racing experience under their belts.
Rounding out the top 10 is the 2006 UK Formula Renault Champion Sebastian Hohenthal. ‘Super Seb’ got his British F3 career off to a flying start at Oulton Park by setting a new BF3 lap record for the Cheshire circuit and a podium finish. However it wasn’t until Brands Hatch that the Swedish driver climbed onto the top step of the podium and the rest of the season has seen flashes of speed but the results haven’t come for a variety of reasons. However Seb will be looking to end the season in the same manner he started it.
Sergio Perez also secured the National Class title at Croft after a season long battle with China’s ‘Frankie’ Cheng. The 17-year-old Mexican sealed the title with his 12th win of the year for himself and his Brackley based T-Sport team.
With the title decided ‘Frankie’ is on A1GP duty for Team China this weekend but don’t expect this fact to give Perez a free ride here at Rockingham. Bahrain’s Hamad Al Fardan looks set to secure third place in the championship after scoring eight podiums in the last eleven race starts, moving him 17 points clear of Banbury’s Michael Meadows. Iceland’s Viktor Jensen took a win at Snetterton but the 19-year-old driver has been struggling with the handling of his ADR Dallara in the last few races and his 5th place in the championship is under threat from a resurgent Salman Al Khalifa after the second Bahraini driver's switch to the class-winning T-Sport team put him on the podium at Thruxton and Croft.
The 2007 season has seen large grids, with twenty-eight of the best drivers across the globe competing in the season finale here at Rockingham. Like all entertainers the drivers are all looking to end the season on a high note by providing plenty of entertaining on track action and a fitting curtain call to a great season.
The Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 international Series races from Rockingham will be shown on Channel 4 at 8am on the 7th October with repeats during the week and Motors TV beginning their comprehensive run from 13th October at 15:00. A full TV schedule can be found on the series website at www.britishf3international.com