Formula 1's British home welcomes F3 Cup
2016 Championship remains wide open as F3 Cup heads to Silverstone
The fight for F3 Cup drivers' championship could not be closer as the drivers and teams move onto the aero-critical sweeps of the Silverstone GP circuit, and into the last third of 2016 Championship. No less than ten drivers have a mathematical chance of overall triumph at the end of the year, with the top five certainly all within realistic striking distance. As cooler Autumn weather descends, the F3 Cup heat is very much on.
Season-long championship points leaderShane Kellyhad a difficult time at the previous Brands Hatch GP event, stalling on the start line of both races. He recovered well in each race however and managed to slightly extend his lead over closest challenger George Line. Hopefully the launch issues will have been resolved, and it will be interesting to see if his University of Wolverhampton Race Team Dallara can extract a useful aero advantage over its rivals this weekend. Second in the table, George Line found that his Dallara was maybe a little short of grunt at Brands, but he also managed to deliver enough to stay firmly in the title hunt. Line has shown pace, consistency and a level head in his debut season of F3 racing with only one no-score, and this due to electrical gremlins. He is certainly overdue a race win.
Third and fourth places in the table are occupied by Stuart Wiltshire (Chris Dittmann Racing) and Jacopo Sebastiani (Omicron Motorsport), separated by only one point and both within easy reach of the overall top spot. Both took strong second places at Brands Hatch, and are on the top of their form with Sebastiani also setting an impressive fastest lap that weekend.
Next up in the points are the Team Fox Racing pairing of Daryl Jones and Robbie Watts. Previously a strong third in the points, and a previous race winner, Jones missed out on Brands GP completely after a mechanical problem in testing, and unfortunately may not make this weekend's event either. On the other hand Robbie Watts took a pair of superb wins at Brands, finally starting to achieve his F3 potential after what has, at times, been a frustrating season. Wattsis another driver who is right in the zone and he must be among the favourites this weekend.
Talking of drivers "in the zone" this must apply to CF Racing's James Heffernan, who showed mercurial form at Brands, posting fastest lap in Race 1 while in pursuit of Watts, before throwing the car harmlessly into the gravel. In Race 2 he was more measured and collected a well-deserved podium finish. Amazingly he had not run on the Brands GP circuit at all prior to the event, but he has already tested at Silverstone GP and could well be a winner here this weekend. Tony Bishop also had a gravel trip at Brands while chasing Watts for a win, but he went extremely well considering he had emerged from a bad shunt in Monoposto at the same circuit only a few weeks before. Tony will also be running his Monoposto car this weekend and can be forgiven for keeping his main focus on that as he is only one point off the Monoposto title lead.
It is a measure of the quality of this year's F3 Cup field that there are very quick drivers lower down in the points table. Two are very experienced racers: ex-hill climb champion Mark Harrison in his Team Fox supported Dallara, and former Monoposto champion Malcolm Scott is his Omicron Motorsport-tended car. Both are more than capable of a top three result, and are familiar with the challenges of Silverstone's Grand Prix circuit. The third quick man is a relative newcomer to single seaters: Stuntman Wade Eastwood has occasionally raced with F3 Cup in the past, but the Brands event saw him rejoin for the rest of this season at least. Eastwood showed he is able to get straight onto the pace at Brands and will be looking to move up the standings here.
The grid is rounded out by Irishman Tim Buckley and guest driver Matt Bell. Tim competed in F3 Cup at Spa this year and enjoyed himself so much that he is again running in the Invitation Class in a modified ex-Paul Dagg Dallara 304. Matt, who finished runner-up in the 2013 British GT Championship, will be making the most of the opportunity to race his Dallara 308 on this fast and challenging circuit.
Words: Simon Davey