If Champion-elect Aaron Caratti needed to do anything to re-enforce his dominance at the top of the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship field, setting fastest time in today's two practice sessions that kicked off the penultimate round of this year's Gold Star Championship would've just about done it.

The Insight F3 driver headed the largest and most competitive Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship field ever at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway today, where Formula 3 Australia is this weekend racing as the major support category to the A1 Grand Prix of Nations Australian event.

Caratti's closest series' rival, Michael Trimble, seemed to push the hassle of changing teams to the back of his mind easily today en route to second fastest time in each session, giving new team Astuti Competition a strong day to build on heading into the business end of the race weekend.

Behind Trimble in each session today was Neil McFadyen, the Team BRM driver showing strong pace in the car driven to date this season by the man who heads him on today's results sheets. McFadyen was just three-tenths of a second off the top of the charts in both practice sessions whilst still indicating there was much more potential in the car.

McFadyen's team mate -- the returning Ian Dyk -- had a similarly strong day after not having driven an open wheeler for over eight months, top five times in both sessions a strong indication of the potential the Sydney based driver has.

Dyk wasn't just fast on track today, the young Sydneysider only just making the track in time for opening practice this morning after having to sit a university exam first thing. No word on how the exam went, but he passed his return to F3 test with flying colours.

"I'd forgotten just how physical these things were to drive. Things are going really well so far. It's great to be back in Formula 3." He said.

Leanne Tander had an extremely productive day in the leading Piccola Scuderia Dallara F301, ninth in the opening session followed up by an impressively strong fifth in P2 later this afternoon.

This weekend marks the return to full-time competition for the diminutive Victorian based driver, who will take over one of the Swiss Racing vehicles at the conclusion of this weekend's meeting to launch an all-out attack on the 2006 championship title.

Tander's team-mate, 2003 series' champ Michael Caruso didn't have a day quite as successful as his fellow Piccola driver, the team executing an engine change between sessions after the experienced operation feared a crack block in the original engine.

Also suffering engine dramas this weekend was Benchmark Motorsports Matt Sofi, the young Sydneysider suffering a terminal engine failure in the dying minutes of the second practice session.

The damage -- a massive hole in the engine's block -- was too significant to repair and forced the team to search for a replacement in what is set to be a very long night for the team.

A bemused Tim Macrow believed that his car "Wouldn't turn in at all. It was horrible, really bad." Whilst still managing to post top six times in both sessions today. The young Melbournian is set to make drastic changes to his F301 Dallara overnight in a bid to improve the car for qualifying tomorrow.

The Kumho Tyres Australian Trophy Class was headed up by experienced driver Graeme Holmes, who topped Rod Anderson and Ian Haines in a close battle at the top of the timesheets. Scud Racing Rookie Lauren Gray showed significant improvement in her Dallara F396, improving on her previous Eastern Creek best by over four seconds in both sessions today.

As an indication of the depth of this weekend's field, the fastest driver in Trophy Class today was an astounding 16th outright -- the 15 cars ahead all the later model F301 or F304 model cars.

The Penultimate round of the championship will go one step further towards being decided tomorrow during qualifying, a further two points up for grabs for the fastest driver in each session. Two 14 lap races Sunday could see the championship wrapped up a round early, Aaron Caratti needing to leave Eastern Creek with 44 points advantage over Trimble to seal the Gold Star early.

He leads Trimble by 61 points heading into qualifying tomorrow.