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British F3
British F3 to begin pitstops
Teams and drivers from the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series have welcomed the introduction of pit stops as an exciting addition to the format of the innovative junior single-seater championship.

Mandatory pit stops along the lines of those employed in F1 will be tried for the first time in the second of this weekend’s (17/18 July) trio of Rockingham races, and drivers and team managers are excited by the prospect of the introduction of a race strategy element.

Championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne said: “Sometimes overtaking can be difficult in Formula 3, so this will be good for the drivers and for the spectators. Working out the strategy will be good for the race engineers, and the experience will be helpful for the drivers as they move on to their next series. They must learn how to make a good in-lap and out-lap, without losing too much time.”

Vergne’s chief title rival, Oli Webb, concurs: “I’m looking forward to it and I think it will be good. There’s quite a lot more to it than at first glance, which will be good for the teams and the people in the pits - it will give them a lot to think about on the pit wall. It could make some races, and it could also break some.”

Says Hitech team boss Ryan Sharp: “It can only be a good thing, even if it is only in its early stages at the moment with no work being carried out on the cars. It’s a good way to find out if the drivers are, at this stage in their careers, up to the task of performing a good stop. If they can prove they can do that, then maybe we can look at introducing some more features to the pit stop.”

T-Sport chief Russell Eacott agrees: “Pit stops are an inevitable part of a driver’s career if he is going to move up the racing ladder. I don’t think we need to be changing wheels and so on - that’s for higher formulae - but the training involved in coming into the pits and exiting efficiently and safely is the vital thing for drivers to learn. In the stress of a race situation it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. It will add an extra dimension and further excitement.”

The pit stop race at Rockingham will be in the second of the weekend’s three races, the 20-minute Sunday morning Sprint race. Competitors will make a mandatory pit visit during a ‘window’ which will open after two minutes and close at 17 minutes. Cars will be required to come to a full stop in their allocated pit apron box, with a team member’s ‘lollipop’ touching the top of a front wheel.

The idea behind the pit stop training is not only to teach the young chargers of Formula 3 more of the disciplines they will need in their future single-seater careers, but also to test and develop the race-strategy skills of their counterparts on the pit wall. “We want to give the drivers the opportunity to further develop their race skills, and also to give team engineers and drivers the chance to interact more on race strategy,” says race director Bernard Cottrell.

“Many people underestimate the learning capabilities offered within Formula 3. We are one of the only junior single-seater series outside Formula 1 where teams may enter different chassis and engines, where the overall set up of the car can be manipulated much more than those within single-make championships. To now add an additional learning element strengthens what is already respected as a strong curriculum for drivers and teams alike,” says Lisa Crampton, general manager of championship promoter SRO. “The pit-stop plan is part of the continuing development of the series together with FOTA, race director Bernard Cottrell and the entrants to ensure that F3 remains a staple training ground for future leaders in the sport, without placing financial strain on the teams to upgrade or buy new equipment.”

Rockingham’s triple helping of Formula 3 action will bring the first half of the Cooper Tires British F3 season to a close. It’s been a hugely competitive and exciting start to the year, with six different race winners from four different teams, and a tense points situation at the top.

The man with the most wins thus far is Carlin driver Vergne, who is bidding to become the first French champion of British F3 and also the third in succession for the Carlin/Red Bull alliance, following in the wheeltracks of Jaime Alguersuari and Daniel Ricciardo. Volkswagen man Vergne was masterful in collecting twin wins at Oulton Park in April, claimed a single win at his home track of Magny-Cours and then bounced back at Hockenheim at the end of May to win twice more.

Fortec’s Webb was the man who took the championship lead away from Vergne at Magny-Cours, albeit briefly. Knutsford-based Oli has been the revelation of 2010: he was twice second at both Oulton and Silverstone before taking advantage of Vergne’s discomfort in France to bag two wins for Mercedes power. But a single podium finish in Germany was not enough for Oli to prevent Jean-Eric from regaining the championship lead and pulling clear by 34 points.

Rockingham is of course home turf for Northamptonshire-based Ulsterman Will Buller who, like Webb, has made a brilliant transition from junior single-seaters to F3 despite being, at 17, the youngest in the field. Buller scored his maiden podiums in France and then placed second behind Vergne last time out, in Germany. Will’s team-mate Gabriel Dias proved at Hockenheim that the Hitech-prepared chassis has the speed and reliability to win, and if the Brazilian isn’t in a position to pull off another victory then Buller may well be.

That the Raikkonen Robertson Racing team has so far failed to take a win is as surprising as it is disappointing for the squad and its drivers Daisuke Nakajima and Carlos Huertas - both of whom were top-five runners in testing at Rockingham in March - and Felipe Nasr, the Brazilian newcomer who is showing improved pace with every outing. Any one of these could spring a surprise and unseat Webb from his position as leading Mercedes-powered competitor.

There are plenty of other potential victors in the multinational field. Young Brits Rupert Svendsen-Cook and James Calado have already claimed wins for Carlin, and their Malaysian team-mate Jazeman Jaafar is knocking on the door, as is Brazilian ace Adriano Buzaid. Meanwhile, Webb’s Fortec team-mate Daniel McKenzie, the reigning National class champion, made it to the podium for the first time in Germany.

There’s a battle royal between T-Sport team-mates James Cole and Menasheh Idafar to decide which of them will follow McKenzie as 2010 National champion. The scoreboard shows seven class wins to Cole so far, with Idafar the victor on five occasions. Just eight points separates them, with Cole ahead but needing to recover from the disappointment of a DNF last time out.

British F3 is sponsored by US tire manufacturer Cooper Tire and is further supported by Sunoco Racing Fuels, Anglo American Oil Company and Mirror.co.uk

Provisional race weekend timetable
Friday 16 July: 0935-1340 testing
Saturday 17 July: 1030 Qualifying & 1455 Cooper Tires British F3 Round 13 (30min)
Sunday 18 July: 1100 Round 14 (20min) & 1425 Round 15 (40min)

Provisional UK TV schedule
Sunday 25 July: 0730 Channel 4 & 2010 Motors TV
Full European TV schedule: http://bit.ly/b7uWb3

Provisional championship standings after round 12
1  Jean-Eric Vergne  161
2  Oliver Webb  127
3  James Calado  88
4  Gabriel Dias  83
5  Adriano Buzaid  78
6  Jazeman Jaafar  61 etc

National Class
1  James Cole, T-Sport 163
2  Menasheh Idafar, T-Sport 155
3  Luiz Razia, West-Tec 23

Mirror.co.uk Challenge Cup
1  Oliver Webb  94
2  James Calado  74
3  Will Buller  57 etc

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