FORMULA 3 TEAMS AND DRIVERS READY FOR CRUCIAL FIRST ROUND
Scoring big early-season points in a year-long championship campaign is a prerequisite in today's highly competitive Motorsport world.
Getting a strong start to the year can build a strong platform for the season's competition and gives teams and drivers something with which to build a championship challenge in the year ahead.
It all means there will be plenty of drivers in the 2006 Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship looking to do the same next weekend when the 50th Gold Star season gets underway at Wakefield Park Raceway in Goulburn, NSW.
The gathered field is set to be a mix of new and returning drivers - some looking to make their mark on open wheel competition in Australia whist others try and capture a crown that may have eluded them in the past.
One driver looking to stamp his name on the local scene will be high-profile international import Ben Clucas, who trades the snow and ice of a British Winter for the mild conditions of an Aussie Autumn as he contests the opening round with Team BRM.
Clucas, 21, was a standout competitor in British Formula 3 National Class in 2005 despite only contesting four rounds, often racing with - and beating - the likes of Aussie Barton Mawer.
The British star will drive a John Deere / Gawler Farm Machinery Dallara F304 Speiss this season and indicated his enthusiasm for more Formula 3 track miles this season.
"I haven't got that much experience in Formula 3 at the moment, so I'm not sure what to think about the year ahead," Clucas said.
"I only did four rounds last year so as a driver there is a lot where I can improve in Formula 3 racing so this gives me an opportunity to spend a year in an F3 car.
"Obviously I want to run at the front if possible. I don't tend to put expectations on myself so I'm going to go out at the first round and see how it goes." He said.
Looking to carry over her strong end of season pace from the end of 2005 will be Leanne Tander, who will front at Wakefield looking for a strong start to her first full Australian National Championship campaign for almost five years.
The 25-year-old will drive for her recently launched Fleetcare Tander Sport outfit, set up in conjunction with husband Garth. The team has completed three test days since the conclusion of their short 2005 'toe in the water' exercise that saw Tander finish second in the final round of last year's championship, potentially a sign of things to come.
Three star drivers from the 2005 racing year will return this season looking to improve on their previous championship results.
Victorian Michael Trimble (Second in 2005), Sydneysider Chris Alajajian (third) and Queenslander Chris Gilmour (fourth) will return this year, all with renewed confidence and the ability to start afresh.
Trimble took the fight up to '05 champ Aaron Caratti last season, winning two races and scoring a solid second in the series points after a tough season. After plenty of pre season testing and solid preparation by the expanded Astuti Motorsport squad Trimble will play a factor at Wakefield Park -- a circuit where he won his first F3 race 12 months ago.
Alajajian has joined last year's champion team, Insight F3, for the opening stanza of this years series and will be looking to convert his impressive speed (he set more fastest laps than any other driver last season) into championship success this year.
One of the series' perennial privateers, Gilmour returns in 2006 with a brand-new car and new resolve to finally win the series in which he placed second in 2004, as well as fourth last year.
Delay's in shipping the new car to Australia will see Gilmour team up with fellow Queensland team Cooltemp Racing at Wakefield Park in a one off drive, before assuming the driving duties with his own Gilmour Racing operation at the Grand Prix in late March.
"I have the equipment under me, my fitness is great, and my mind is on one thing for this year - and that's to take out the championship," a motivated -- and recently engaged - Gilmour enthused.
And whilst the championship contenders are mounting up, a host of new and returning drivers will come together in the new-for-2006 National Class competition.
Designed for the F399 -- F301 evolution Formula 3 chassis, the National Class has attracted a raft of both new and returning drivers for its opening round.
Expected to be leading the charge will be Tim Berryman and Stephen Borness -- both with F3 experience in the last 12 months.
Berryman, who took delivery of the 2004 championship winning car throughout the off season, is the one with prior F3 experience at the circuit, however, tasting success in Trophy Class at Wakefield Park last season.
Borness made four race starts last season, scoring three sixth-place finishes in what was his first shot at Formula 3 competition. After purchasing the race winning Piccola Scuderia F301 Fiat towards the end of last season the experienced sports / GT racer will have a competitive mount with which to kick off his National Class hopes.
Five cars have nominated for the opening National Class hit out, a sign that bodes well for the future of the new Formula 3 'race within a race'.
Four cars have nominated for Trophy Class, designed to cater for the F396 -- F398 model cars.
Victorian Lauren Gray will return to Formula 3 behind the wheel of the familiar Scud Racing Dallara she drove in 2005, Gray looking to continue her strong improvement behind the wheel of a Formula 3 car as she continues her rise up the ranks of Australian Motorsport.
Trophy Class regulars Rod Anderson, Graeme Holmes and Michael Navybox have also entered.
Round 1 of the 2006 Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 championship for the 50th Anniversary CAMS Gold Star Award gets underway at Wakefield Park on March 3.