STUNNING TIMES SET IN FORMULA 3 TESTING AT EASTERN CREEK
Mat Sofi's ex-Carlin Motorsport Dallara was just one of the new breed of F3 cars setting stunning times at Eastern Creek this week.
Opes Prime Team BRMs new cars have proven to be very competitive, lapping Eastern Creek in the mid 1m22s bracket.
Lap times nearly two seconds underneath the existing lap record have been set by the latest generation Formula 3 chassis in preseason testing at Eastern Creek Raceway this week.
After three days at the Western Sydney track the top teams from the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship have -- unofficially -- set a cracking pace at the 3.9km circuit in the first real run for the 2007-specification Dallaras' that will make up the outright class of this years Gold Star fight.
Opes Prime Team BRM confirmed yesterday that driver Nathan Caratti lapped in 1m22.7s -- substantially faster than the 1m25.22s (race) lap record set at the track in 2005, by Chris Alajajian.
By comparison, the fastest qualifying time recorded at the track in recent times was 1m24.1s, still showing a marked improvement by the new 2007-specification cars this week.
Made in three-year model cycles, the 2005 - 2007 generation F3 chassis has only been made eligible in Australia this season due to the local series running one model run behind the European competition, to control costs.
The new Dallara features several aerodynamic and safety upgrades over the existing '02 - '04 spec cars.
Team BRM have run four cars in the first three days of testing this week, whilst TanderSport, Transwest Racing, Astuti Motorsport and others have also turned laps.
Last year's series' runner up Leanne Tander shook down all three of TanderSports' cars on Monday, including the teams National Class spec Dallara F304 -- Spiess.
Having raced the '04-spec car last year, Tander is ideally qualified to compare the different cars and says that the new chassis is something of a revelation.
"One way of explaining it would be that the new car feels like driving the F304 on new tyres, all the time," she enthused.
"It has a huge amount of grip, so much more than the old car. It's actually quite easy to do the same times that we are used to -- the key with these cars is pushing them harder to find the extra 1 -- 1.5 seconds that's in them.
"Going quickly wasn't the name of the game today -- it was more about getting a feel for the car and how it responds to this or that," she added.
"Everyone in the team learnt something and its given us a really good start to the program this year."
Sydneysider Mat Sofi, who will line up in the only Mugen Honda powered Dallara F307 in the opening round, also hailed his few days' testing as a successful exercise.
Sofi banked a solid time in the low 1m23-second bracket in his ex-Carlin Motorsport car and says that he feels confident that his Transwest Racing team is onto a winner with their new machinery.
"We didn't do many laps today (Wednesday), but it was very productive," Sofi said.
"The new cars seem to be a little bit better in every respect compared to the 304 car. It's got more grip, more speed and you can get down to quick times quicker. Its those little differences that over the course of a lap add up to quite a big speed difference.
"I think you'll see the F307s with a fair gap to the National Class cars because there is a good difference between them."
Several cars from the Opes Prime National Class have also been lapping this week, including Opes Prime Team BRMs Lee Farrell, Astuti Motorsports' Daniel Schulz and Transwest Racing's James Crozier.
Crozier, an ex Formula Ford and Vee driver, will steer Mat Sofi's old Mugen powered Dallara this season and has had Sofi providing assistance and data advice this week.
"I jumped in the old car to set a benchmark time and to get some data for James," Sofi said.
"The car is still a jet and I think James should go well this year -- he should be towards the front of the class."
Details surrounding the opening round of the championship will continue to be confirmed in the coming days, including the release of the official entry list.
Opes Prime Team BRM is also expected to confirm the remainder of their driver line-up as are several other major operations.
Formula 3 Australia will also announce its new TV package prior to the opening round of the championship.