Quality field assembles for British Formula 3
The best in young racing talent, a new and exciting diversity in chassis and power units, and the most challenging circuits in Europe - these are the factors combing to provide the prospect of a vintage year for the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series.
Entries are still being received by championship organiser SRO Motorsports Group, but it is clear that, with just over a week to go before the first official test session, the championship rivals lining up to take part are as gifted and exciting as any ever seen in British F3.
The prospects for a home championship victory - the first since 2006 - are strong also, with several very experienced British drivers returning to Formula 3 for a title tilt and some exceptionally talented youngsters looking to make their mark in their debut seasons at the pinnacle of UK single-seater racing and follow in the wheeltracks of such motor-sporting greats as Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and recent F1 stars Nelson Piquet Jnr and Takuma Sato.
SRO Chairman Stephane Ratel said: "For 2009 we have an exceptional line up of young talent and we are expecting more to join the series very soon. British F3 is a fantastic environment for young drivers to develop their skills, not only in racecraft but importantly their ability to work with their race engineers to improve their performance."
The team in pole position for top honours is Carlin Motorsport, thanks to its title-winning form in 2008 and impressive tally of 14 wins from 22 races. With four experienced drivers on the strength and a wealth of experience of the all-conquering Dallara chassis, Carlin's position as pre-season favourite is undeniable. There is one unknown quantity, however: the new Volkswagen engine which will make its British championship race debut, after success in Europe, at Oulton Park on Easter Monday (13 Apr).
Carlin's quartet of racers comprises three Englishman - Henry Arundel, Max Chilton and Oliver Oakes - and Aussie Daniel Ricciardo. Bristol University student Arundel, 21, is embarking on his second season of British F3 after a season with Raikkonen Robertson Racing while 17-year-old Surrey man Chilton is a youthful veteran of two F3 seasons already - he made his debut (and history) on his 16th birthday in 2006. Podium finishes last season with the Hitech team suggest that Chilton's maiden victory can't be far away. Norfolk 21-year-old Oakes will meanwhile be hoping to start his season as he ended his last; Oli was the pole-sitter at Donington Park in October. Ricciardo, 19, arrives in the team with an impressive single-seater pedigree, including six Formula Renault Eurocup race wins last year and the championship runner-up spot.
T-Sport - the second most successful team behind Carlin last year, with four wins - has also adopted Volkswagen power for its brace of Dallaras, and has taken on two bright young talents to race them: Brazilian 20-year-old Adriano Buzaid, a race winner in both Formula Ford and Formula Renault, and Ulsterman Wayne Boyd, 18.
Boyd swept all before him in Formula Ford last year, winning more than half his races on his way to the crown as well as the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. His signature on an F3 contract was highly sought-after. "The overall package that T-Sport was offering and the new deal with Volkswagen won the day for me," said Boyd. "They are racers and absolutely focused on winning, which suits me fine. I have so much to learn in 2009 and I look forward to the future with excitement. I can't wait to get on the track and try the new engine."
Fortec Motorsport and Raikkonen Robertson Racing, both race winners in 2008, are sticking with the proven Mercedes-Benz powerplants which have propelled the champion driver in British F3 since 2006. Each team has so far named only one driver: 19-year-old Spaniard Victor Garcia, a race-winner in Spanish F3, will drive for Fortec, while RRR has opted for Columbian Carlos Huertas, 17, to spearhead its challenge. Huertas was a karting star in South America before he tasted Formula BMW success with Raikkonen Robertson.
Dallara's stranglehold on British F3 - the last non-Dallara champion was Reynard driver Gil de Ferran in 1992 - looks set to come under renewed assault this year, with two teams fielding the Mygale chassis. After a learning season with the French-built car in 2008, JTR returns with 24-year-old Bedford boy Nick Tandy, who has high hopes of improving on the second- and third-place finishes he scored last year. Team boss Joe Tandy, Nick's elder brother, hopes to field a second Mygale-Mercedes also.
After great successes in Spanish F3, Northamptonshire-based Team West-Tec is stepping up to the plate in Britain this season with a Mugen Honda-powered Mygale for reigning British F3 National Class Champion Jay Bridger. Kent-based Jay, 21, says he believes the new chassis/engine package will be strong: "We aim to be competitive from the word go." Bridger and Tandy are no strangers to on-track rivalry: they competed against each other in Formula Ford in 2006 and '07.
Joining Buzaid in a bid to become the next great Brazilian-born British F3 Champion (there have been nine over the last 30 years) is 19-year-old Victor Correa, who on occasion last year outpaced his team-mate Wayne Boyd in Formula Ford. The Sao Paulo racer will pilot the promising Mugen Honda-powered Litespeed chassis.
There's not been a Welsh racer at the top level of British Formula 3 for more than 20 years, but Corwen-based Hywel Lloyd, 24, aims to blaze a trail for his country as he makes the leap from the National class (where he was a winner in 2008) to the International grid at the wheel of his Dallara-Mugen Honda, which is fielded by his family-run CF Racing squad.
The first of four pre-season tests for the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series is scheduled for the Snetterton circuit in Norfolk on 24 February. The opening rounds of the championship, which is sponsored by US tyre manufacturer Cooper Tire and further supported by motorsport insurance specialist AON, by Sunoco Racing Fuels and by Anglo American Oil Company, are set for the Easter weekend at Oulton Park, Cheshire.
Twenty races will decided the championship title: in addition to events at Oulton, Donington Park, Silverstone, Rockingham, Snetterton and Brands Hatch, visits to the German Grand Prix circuit of Hockenheim, to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium and to the Bucharest street circuit in Romania are on the schedule.