Round One - Oulton Park - Preview
F3 Cup's 2015 season kicks-off this Easter weekend at Oulton Park
F3 Cup starts its 2015 season this Easter Monday (6 April) with a tightly scheduled one day double-header on the challenging Oulton Park International circuit, supporting the British GT & Duo BRDC F4 championships. After a winter which saw several national-level F3 series across Europe folding in the face of the FIA's focus on its new Formula 3 European Championship, F3 Cup now stands as almost the only F3 championship in Europe with a realistically accessible budget for many drivers and teams who recognise the attraction and challenge of racing modern F3 machinery.
The F3 Cup field this weekend includes a fascinating combination of front-runners from last season, newcomers to the Championship, and a returning former major winner.
Aaron Steele last campaigned a full season of F3 Cup in the series' first year in 2011, which was a massive success, and which saw him make his racing debut in the USA after winning the inaugural Sunoco Grand Am 200 Challenge. He's kept his "F3 hand" in since then with a couple of one-off outings. This year he is back for a full campaign aiming to take the overall title, running again with his former team Grays Motorsport, who have certainly shown they know how to get the best out of an F3 Dallara. There is no question that the overall level of competition in F3 Cup has risen since 2011, and last season's front runners - indeed, race winners - Henry Chart and Louis Hamilton-Smith are expected to be right up there challenging for race wins and the championship title in their Enigma Motorsport and Jigsaw Motorsport run cars. Henry has a continuing additional challenge to manage his university studies alongside his race programme, something which he achieved very effectively on both counts last season.
Chris Dittmann Racing is fielding a strong driver pairing of Tony Bishop and Stuart Wiltshire, both experienced racers in beautifully prepared cars. Stuart's is particularly of interest as it is an '08-'11 spec Dallara. This new "3 year design cycle" of F3 cars has been admitted to F3 Cup for the first time this year although a couple of Invitation Class runs in 2014 helped to confirm the relative competitiveness of these newer cars compared to slightly older versions. Given the intense focus that both the CDR drivers apply to their racing, the rivalry within the team could be well worth watching!
Two newcomers are also equipped with 08-11 spec cars; Jacopo Sebastiani took in a couple of races last year as an aperitif and is back this season for the full course. His newly acquired Dallara F311 is being run by 2014 Team Champions Omicron Motorsport, tended personally by the super-quick Tristan Cliffe who this year plans to focus on team management rather than driving. In such competitive company he has a steep learning curve ahead, but also has expert support and guidance from his team. Completely new to F3 Cup is CF Racing's Daniel Tapinos. He will also have expert support from previous National Class British F3 driver and CF Racing's manager Hywel Lloyd. It will be interesting to see if either Tristan or Hywel are tempted to enter the fray again as drivers as the season progresses.
The Trophy Class for older '99-'01 spec class sees two very quick drivers upgrading from Monoposto club racing. Adrian Holey also is a frequent runner in classic F3 and will be a serious force to be reckoned with once he gets to grips with the high downforce from the Dallara chassis, as will Mike Hatton who has also turned in some very impressive performances in Classic 2000 Monoposto racing in the last year. The field will be rounded-off by Matt Payne with his very smart Mercedes-powered '05 Dallara, provided it comes through a late season opening shake down test before the meeting.
It's a healthy start to the new season, and with several more drivers from the UK and one or two German F3 teams eyeing their chances in affordable F3 racing, F3 Cup is set for an exciting 2015 season.
Tickets for the event are available on the gate, click here for pricing information. You can follow the action via live timing on the F3 Cup website on Monday, with live updates also available on Twitter.
Words: Simon Davey