Lights, cameras, action. British F3 is go for 2012

The Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series, the long-established proving ground of the Grand Prix stars of tomorrow, is set for another stellar season of competition in 2012. The championship, which gets underway in two weeks time (6/7 April) at Oulton Park, boasts the best teams, the best young drivers and the best and most diverse calendar of any top-class junior single-seater series.

For 61 years British Formula 3 has been producing the Grand Prix stars of the future. Champion names such as Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello have gone on to Grand Prix greatness.

Were further proof needed of the championship’s continuing influence on the world motorsporting stage, last weekend’s F1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix was won by a British F3 graduate, Jenson Button, and saw starring roles from former National Class Champion Sergio Perez and outright Champions Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, the latter making an impressive Grand Prix debut 18 months on from his British F3 title victory.

And all the signs are there that the young talent entering British F3’s ‘university of motorsport’ this season will be following in their wheeltracks soon.

New cars and motive powerThe big news is the arrival of a new F3 chassis from Dallara, the Italian manufacturer which has dominated this championship since 1993, when Kelvin Burt delivered it the first of 19 consecutive championship victories. The F312 offers improved safety, better performance and key components with a greater life expectancy, and hence reduced costs.

There’s a new engine, too: a Nissan unit tuned by Japanese firm Tomei and installed in the back of one of T-Sport’s chassis. The signs are that it is going to prove more than a rival to the Volkswagen engine favoured by the Carlin team and the Mercedes-Benz unit to be found in the Fortec Motorsport and Double R cars. The venerable Mugen Honda engine lives on, too, powering the older chassis seen in the National class.

Exciting runners and ridersThere’s also a very real chance that this season could see the first British champion since Mike Conway in 2006, with three very quick young Englishmen - Jack Harvey, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell - on track with top teams. Harvey is backed by the Racing Steps Foundation, the organisation which helps nurture UK track talent, and Jack will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Oliver Turvey and James Calado in graduating with honours from British F3 and going on to the Renault World Series and GP2.

Lincolnshire-based Harvey and Devonian Tincknell are both in their second seasons of British F3 and with the Carlin team, whose drivers have won the championship for the last four years. And Jack and Harry have both tested well, eclipsing their Carlin team-mates at last week’s Rockingham sessions.

Rookie Lynn has shone in testing also, despite being one of the least experienced in the Fortec squad. The Essex-based reigning Formula Renault UK Champion was the quickest of Fortec’s foursome both on the car’s shakedown runs at Snetterton and at Rockingham, and brims with confidence. “It’s always good to be the fastest in your team,” said Alex. “and we are very close to the front-runners’ pace. The Carlin drivers are clearly five quick guys who are pushing each other on, but I’m confident that come the first round we will be quicker than them.”

All three Brits will have their work cut out staying ahead of their rapid colleagues. At Carlin, these consist of third-year recruit Jazeman Jaafar, the Petronas-backed Malaysian who has more F3 experience under his belt than anyone else in the field; the very rapid Pietro Fantin, a racewinner last year with Hitech, who has his sights set on becoming the 13th Brazilian wearer of the British F3 champion’s crown, taking it straight off number 12, Felipe Nasr; and finally Carlos Sainz Jnr, son of the double World Rally Champion. Junior comes to the UK with the Formula Renault Northern European championship title under his belt and backing from Red Bull.

Lynn’s compatriots in the Fortec camp comprise Brazil’s Pipo Derani, who cut his teeth in British F3 in 2011 with Double R Racing after a season in German F3; Puerto Rican Formula Renault graduate Felix Serralles and Dutch driver Hannes van Asseldonk, who capped a successful season in German F3 last year with a fifth-place finish in the hardest F3 race of them all, the Macau Grand Prix.

There’s a distinctively Australian feel to things over at the T-Sport team, with Down Under drivers Nick McBride and Spike Goddard on the driving strength. Both have graduated to British F3 after success with the Jamun Racing team in the MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain. Both are rookies in Formula 3 but that hasn’t stopped them from showing promise in pre-season testing, particularly McBride, whose job is to help the team introduce the Nissan power unit to European competition.

Goddard’s task is to bag another National class title for T-Sport to accompany the four already won by the squad, most recently in 2010 with Menasheh Idafar, but he will face opposition from a number of sources, not least from yet another Australian driver, Duvashen Padayachee, who arrives in the UK following success in Formula BMW Asia. Duvashen will drive for the Double R Racing team, whose long pedigree of success in British F3 includes championship victory in 2006 with Mike Conway.

The latest addition to the 2012 line-up is another Double R driver, Malaysian Fahmi Ilyas, who made his debut last season with Fortec after success in Formula BMW Pacific and Formula BMW Europe. “We’re very pleased to have agreed a deal with Fahmi to join Duvashen; it’s good to have a driver in both classes and we’re sure they’re going to make strong progress during the year,” said team principal Anthony ‘Boyo’ Hieatt. “Fahmi’s new car arrived only on Saturday so the boys are working flat out to get everything ready for this week. We’re aiming straight away for the top six with him, in qualifying and the races - he’ll be quick.”

Further entries, including a National Class car from Hywel Lloyd’s Wales-based CF Racing team, are also expected on the grid for Oulton.

Revised points scoring system, new rulesThe points-scoring system has been clarified for 2012, with all three races in a weekend attracting an identical number of points - 20 for the winner in each class, 15 for second, and 12-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 awarded from third to 10th, plus a point for fastest race lap.

As in previous seasons, the first race of each weekend will be a 30-minute event, race two a 20-minute ‘semi-reverse grid’ sprint and race three a 40-minute feature race. The semi-reverse grid rule has been revised: the grid is still to be established from the finishing order of race one, with the race one winner drawing his grid position, but for this season his start number could be anywhere between 8 and 12. If he selects P10, for example, the top 10 from race one will be reversed for race two.

Superb calendar, eventsThe addition of two races around the streets of Pau in south-western France is the major alteration to the established calendar for the championship.

The season will be spread over 10 events with three races at each, with the exception of the Grand Prix de Pau meeting, and will take in the Grand Prix circuits of Monza in Italy, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, and Silverstone, as well as all of Britain’s leading tracks.

Commencing with a Good Friday/Easter Saturday event at Oulton Park in Cheshire, British Formula 3 will share its UK dates with the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, as well as a full roster of supporting championships.

“We are very pleased by the format of the calendar, the dates secured and the circuits British Formula 3 will visit,” said SRO General Manager Lisa Crampton. “Monza, Ricard and Spa were the highlights of the 2011 season for the teams, drivers and spectators, and we are more than pleased to be returning, and also delighted that the Grand Prix de Pau will be joining the schedule. It will be the first street race on the British Formula 3 calendar for several years and will offer a real test.”

WP Motorsport announced as fuels supplierWP Group announced today that WP Motorsport will be the official fuel sponsor for the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series.

WP Motorsport, one of the trading divisions of WP Group, will be the official supplier at the racing events for the next three years, delivering high quality race fuels and lubricants to the teams and competitors. WP Motorsport has a longstanding successful association with numerous championships and said it was thrilled to be able to add British F3 to the collection. Originally called Atol Fuel, the company was acquired by WP Group in 2007 and rebranded as WP Motorsport as part of the WP Group evolution in 2010. Since acquisition, the company has added Panta race fuel, Mobil 1 lubricants and Maxima racing products to the already established Elf Racing product line, giving a platform for a strong contribution to the world of motorsport.

Lisa Crampton commented: “It’s fantastic to have WP Motorsport and all its associated brands on board with British F3. WP’s reputation for providing high quality product and a first class support service is renowned and we are thrilled to be working with the team.”

Carlos Sainz tops first Silverstone testSpain’s Carlos Sainz continued his strong run of pre-season form this morning at Silverstone, the Red Bull Racing Junior pipping his Carlin team-mate Harry Tincknell for the honour of fastest man in the media day test session around the Grand Prix circuit. Sainz went well in the wet at Snetterton earlier this month and was on strong form in the Silverstone sunshine today also, two-tenths up on Tincknell and nearly matching last year’s pole position time.

Tincknell was delighted with his position: “Given that I had a problem with my gearbox downshift today and that historically Silverstone hasn’t been my strongest circuit, I’m absolutely delighted with P2, and it bodes well for me.”

Jack Harvey (Carlin) and Alex Lynn (Fortec) made it three Brits in the top four today at the home of British motor racing, with Dutch driver Hannes van Asseldonk underlining the Fortec team’s resurgent pace with fifth position overall. Pietro Fantin was disappointed with seventh: “We have had handling set-up problems all day and we can’t seem to find the answer at the moment,” said the Brazilian.

National class runner Duvashen Padayachee endured a high-speed scare when a rear wheel parted company with his Double R Dallara; it left the circuit but damage was light. “It was a bit scary,” the 21-year-old Australian admitted. He ended his day 1.5s behind his class rival and countryman Spike Goddard (T-Sport).

Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International SeriesOfficial test day 5 / Silverstone, Northants / 21 March 2012

International class1  Carlos SAINZ / ESP,  Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen  1:53.1932  Harry TINCKNELL / GBR,  Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen  1:53.3933  Jack HARVEY / GBR,  Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen  1:53.6494  Alex LYNN / GBR,  Fortec Dallara-Mercedes  1:53.7175  Hannes VAN ASSELDONK / NED,  Fortec Dallara-Mercedes  1:53.8416  Jazeman JAAFAR / MAS,  Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen  1:54.3317  Pietro FANTIN / BRA,  Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen  1:54.5818  Felix SERRALLES / PUR,  Fortec Dallara-Mercedes  1:54.6989  Nick McBRIDE / AUS,  T-Sport Dallara-Nissan  1:54.96010  Pipo DERANI / BRA,  Fortec Dallara-Mercedes  1:55.16911  Fahmi ILYAS / MAS,  Double R Dallara-Mercedes  1:56.947

National class1  Spike GODDARD / AUS,  T-Sport Dallara-Mugen Honda  1:55.9402  Duvashen PADAYACHEE / AUS,  Double R Dallara-Mugen Honda 1:57.446

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