Race Report - Oulton Park, Rounds 1 & 2
The 2015 season got underway in classic Formula 3 style at Oulton Park last weekend
With several new driver/car combinations, plus the first use of the new Pirelli tyres, the initial F3 Cup qualifying session of 2015 had been keenly anticipated, and it didn't disappoint.
Even in the early, chilly conditions a fierce battle for pole developed almost immediately, with three drivers taking at least two turns each at the head of the timing lists. Aaron Steeleheaded the sheets "out of the box" and after a tense session came out on top in the Grays Motorsport Dallara F307, around 2 seconds faster than his long-standing F3 Cup lap record, set in 2011. However Henry Chart's Enigma F306 was only a tenth down, and might have taken the honours had he not pitted a lap or two too early in the session. Louis Hamilton-Smith's F306 was three tenths beyond that, although his second fastest lap was very strong and put him ahead of Henry for the second race. Louis' session was curtailed when a rear wheel centre lock loosened off - a problem which was to plague him all day. Stuart Wiltshiretook to his new Chris Dittmann Racing-run F308-Mercedes like a proverbial duck to water and at one point in the session reached second spot, eventually having to settle for fourth despite posting the fastest times on two of the three lap sectors. All four drivers were well under the previous lap record, showing off the enhanced pace of the new Pirellis, which seem well-suited to F3 Cup machinery.
The second half of the grid saw F3 Cup newcomers Jacopo Sebastiani (Omicron), Daniel Tapinos (CF Racing) and Adrian Holey's very smart Trophy Class F300 mixing it with established F3 Cup racer Tony Bishop (Chris Dittmann Racing). Tony had an unsettling spin early in the proceedings, but Jacopo looked comfortable and used his 5th place grid slots as a platform for a very impressive debut meeting in his Omicron-run, ex-Motopark F311-VW.
The midday slot for the first F3 Cup race gave the weather time to get itself sorted out, with temperatures several degrees higher than in qualifying. As the red lights went out, poleman Steele frightened everyone when he stalled, and after the field somehow avoided both him and each other he had a mountain to climb to get beck into contention. Chart immediately launched into the lead and was never headed, with a fast and very well controlled drive to a 12 second win. Hamilton-Smith held on to him initially, but couldn't quite match Chart's pace, and on lap 8 the loose wheel problem forced him to pit. He continued exactly a lap down and showed what could have been but for the problem. In the meantime, Steele had risen through the field, although the flying Stuart Wiltshire held him off for four laps, so Steele couldn't catch Chart despite setting fastest lap towards the end. Louis Hamilton Smith's problems meant Wiltshire took his first, and very well-deserved, F3 Cup podium place ahead of a solid drive by Jacopo Sebastiani, who was in turn ahead of Daniel Tapinos and Adrian Holey. Tony Bishop had a troubled race which eventually saw a failure in the lower plane of the rear wing. Despite this Bishop held onto the car well and brought it safely into the finish.
By the end of the afternoon the second race actually saw warm and sunny conditions as the field came to the grid. This time Aaron Steele got away slightly too eagerly into first place on the track and immediately got given a ten second jump start penalty. Henry Chartheld the gap between them at a comfortable couple of seconds, giving himself a time lead of around seven seconds for most of the race, collecting fastest lap in the process. On the last lap he had a fright when an engine problem meant he dropped about five seconds to Steele, but he hung on to complete a brilliant double win. This time it was Stuart Wiltshire's turn to stall off the line, and it took some vigorous pushing by the grid marshals to get the recalcitrant Mercedes to fire up. However Stuart repaid his helpers efforts with a strong drive back through the field to fourth, justly earning himself the "Sunoco Driver of the Weekend" title in the process. He couldn't do anything about Jacopo Sebastiani however, who took third place and the podium spot to round off a very good weekend.
There are only a couple of weeks to go before the next F3 Cup round at Donington Park, which is the first of the new format triple -headers With already ferocious competition at the sharp end of the field, and the prospect of several more cars joining the grid, the scene is set for another exciting F3 Cup season.
The 2015 F3 Cup season continues at Donington Park on 25/26 April. Further news and updates will be available at www.f3cup.co.uk, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/f3cup and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/f3cup
Words: Simon Davey