#Snetterton7: F3 Cup's 2016 Championship Contenders
The closest title fight in F3 Cup history comes to a head at Snetterton on 8-9 October
F3 Cup's visit to the super-fast Silverstone Grand Prix circuit earlier this month served to create the closest title fight in the championship's history. After a weekend of intense competition, nothing was resolved and the final event at Snetterton (8-9 October) looms with no less than seven drivers in contention for overall honours. Additionally, any of the top three teams can take the prestigious Teams' Champion title.
The Snetterton Seven
Championship leader Shane Kelly made a dominant start to the year with a string of podium finishes in the first six races, including three outright wins at Donington Park. A troubled visit to Spa-Francorchamps however brought a change of fortune for Kelly and his University of Wolverhampton Race Team. A second place at Oulton Park was followed by a DNF and the team have only visited the podium once since then. Nonetheless, the student-run team will be pulling out all the stops to give Kelly his best shot at holding on to his lead and claiming the team's first Championship title - in only their second year of competitive motorsport.
Second placed George Line joined the championship as a new face in 2016. Graduating from MX-5 racing, he told the assembled press at MSVR's Media Day in February, "I tested the F3 car and it was like nothing else. It will be a big change from the Mazdas but I'm really looking forward to it!" Line has enjoyed a strong debut year, with consistent top five finishes including a number of podiums. Running with CF Racing, he would have to wait until round 13 at Silverstone for his first win, although the number proved unlucky as a false start penalty relegated him to fifth. Although this cost him the chance to grab the championship lead, undeterred he went back out later that day and took the outright win in some style, to finish the weekend just two points behind Kelly (before dropped scores).
Stuart Wiltshire has had a tougher run in 2016 than last year, when the F3 Cup veteran finished second in the overall standings. There have been a number of podium finishes, but a couple of DNFs at Brands Hatch and an injury-plagued weekend at Silverstone see the Chris Dittmann Racing driver in third place going into the final weekend. Wiltshire's undoubted highlight will be his first ever win, at his favourite circuit, no less: At Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps a third place in the first race set him up for a win in race two, and the self-proclaimed "People's Champion" was clearly delighted telling the crowds, "My F1 career is back on track!"
Daryl Jones was another new face to the championship this year, and after a rocky start at Donington quickly found his rhythm at Brands Hatch Indy with two wins and a second place. Running with Team Fox Racing, Jones' Dallara F308 has been a stunning addition to the grid, the matte grey and orange car usually running near the front of the pack. Unfortunately mechanical gremlins at Brands Hatch GP were to cost him valuable points as he was unable to start either race, though solid results at Silverstone see him only 12 points behind Wiltshire.
Omicron Motorsport's Jacopo Sebastiani returned to the championship this year hungry for more after finishing fourth in the overall standings in 2015. Like Wiltshire, Sebastiani also clinched his first win this year, again at Spa. In fact, the silverware has been quite prominent for the Italian this year, with a number of podiums in the last few rounds. Snetterton is Omicron's home circuit so they will stop at nothing to ensure Sebastiani has his very best chance at the Drivers' title.
Although a familiar face to F3 Cup, Robbie Watts made a concerted return to the championship this season after a string of Monoposto Championship titles over the last few years, trading his unique Lola for a similarly electric blue Dallara F308 in the process. The results have been strong, with a number of podiums and a string of wins from Brands Hatch GP to Silverstone, but a couple of DNFs and missing two of the three races at Donington leave the Team Fox Racing driver with a tougher challenge than those further up the table. Watts is absolutely on-form at the moment, however, so don't dismiss his chances!
The final Drivers' championship contender is another new face this year - CF Racing's James Heffernan. Running a beautiful blue and red Dallara F308, Heffernan joined the championship as something of an unknown quantity, but quickly established himself with strong performances at the season opener at Donington Park. Being forced to miss all three races at Brands Hatch Indy cost him dearly, but a number of podium finishes and fastest laps later on would help his championship position. Currently seventh in the standings Heffernan is certainly the outsider in terms of pure statistics, but his on-track pace should not be underestimated as he has regularly pressured the higher-ranking drivers this year.
Snetterton in October can - and usually does! - present any number of challenges in terms of the weather, so the championship decider is certain to be a thriller. Live timing and updates will be available via www.f3cup.co.uk/live all weekend and you can join in the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using #Snetterton7!