F3 Cup set for unpredictable opener

07/04/2012 - With new drivers and machines, unpredictability is rife making Monday’s meeting at Oulton Park extremely difficult to call.

07/04/2012 - With the F3 Cup welcoming a vast array of new drivers and machines, unpredictability is rife making Monday's meeting at Oulton Park extremely difficult to call for even the most educated F3 anorak.

The growth of the championship over the winter has seen a selection of reigning champions, race winners and former champions join the majority of last season's competitors in providing an eclectic spectrum of drivers.

The youngest driver on the grid is 18-year-old current Radical Clubman's Cup champion James Abbott, who will dip his toe into the world of single-seater racing this weekend. Abbott has been pleased by his progress during winter testing and will no doubt be hoping to feature at the sharp end in his ex - European F3 Open Dallara F307. In contrast, former ARP F3 and Britcar Production Cup champion Gino Ussi returns to F3 at the age of 53, and he is not about to make up the numbers in his Grays Motorsport run car.

Tristan Cliffe and James Cross are two more current champions making the move to the F3 Cup in a bid for another ultimately successful season. Cliffe dominated the Monoposto 2000 championship last year and his Omicron Motorsport team are hungry to continue their run of recent success. The 30-year-old made his F3 Cup debut at last year's final round at Oulton Park, impressing with a third place finish.

Also making his F3 debut and switching from tin tops is Cross, who won the Toyota MR2 Championship last season. Cross, from Newcastle upon Tyne, has been busy testing in the winter and is another driver to keep an eye on as he adapts to single-seater racing.             

Linton Stutely is another name known in national racing circles after contending for podiums and wins in the 2007 British Formula Ford Championship. The Cambridgeshire racer, who edged Nick Tandy to a Formula Ford victory at Snetterton in 2007, has proven his speed in open wheel racing and is hoping to transfer his skills to the F3 Cup this year.    

A grid of 21 cars for the opening round was exactly what the championship was aiming for over the winter and while there are many new faces on the grid for the 2012 season, it would be foolish to rule out the class of 2011, who have returned.