Cooper Tires British F3 Adopts Pit Stops, but No Tyre Changes
The Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series heads to Rockingham alongside The Avon Tyres British GT Championship this weekend (17-18 July) with the former introducing pit stops and the latter entering the second half of a closely fought season. Teams and drivers from F3 have reportedly 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 Formula One will be tried for the first time in the second of the weekend’s trio of Rockingham races. The aim, according to Cooper, is to give drivers experience of the race strategy element that takes place in F1, even though tyres will not be changed. Meanwhile Avon’s British GT Championship heads to Rockingham following a six-week break, and things in this year’s title race are looking close. At the sharp end of the grid, the GT3 class the battle looks likely to continue until the final round, with only 16 points separating the top five teams in the championship.
There are only two points between season-long championship leaders Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin, whose MTECH Ferrari 430 Scuderia won both of the Oulton Park rounds at the start of the year, and their closest rival, Trackspeed Porsche pilot David Ashburn.
While Cameron and Griffin may have enjoyed a copybook start to their season, it has been far from plain sailing for them since. They placed second behind the Preci-Spark Ascari of the reigning champions, David and Godfrey Jones, in the first of the Knockhill races and then came to grief in the second Knockhill race after a collision with the Ascari. Things didn’t go much better for the MTECH car last time out, at Spa-Francorchamps, where they missed out on a podium finish in the two-and-a-half hour race. Nonetheless, Cameron and Northampton-based Griffin cling to their championship lead.
Ashburn, who has shared his rapid Trackspeed Porsche with a variety of co-drivers this season, has now teamed up with Glyn Geddie for the balance of the year as he bids to move into the championship lead. Though one of the youngest on the grid at 20, Geddie has bags of Porsche experience and the pace to provide great back-up for Ashburn’s title bid.
The Jones brothers have had an up and down sort of season, posting two DNFs at Oulton Park before going on to take twin wins in the Ascari at Knockhill. At Spa they didn’t even make the grid after suffering engine problems post-qualifying. But they got on to the podium at Rockingham last year and ought to be right on the pace.
There are several teams who will be looking for an upturn in their fortunes. Not least among them are Craig Wilkins and Aaron Scott with the rapid GT3 Racing Viper, which has been blighted by braking electronics problems. Then there is the Rosso Verde Ferrari 430 Scuderia of Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen, which has been out of the hunt since scoring a brace of seconds at Oulton.
Action starts with qualifying on Saturday, ahead of two one-hour races on Sunday.
Enthusiasm for pit stop move
Cooper Tires British F3 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.”
The change to the rules has been introduced merely to give aspiring F1 drivers experience of pit stops. However Cooper says its F3 tyres are more than able to last the distance, so teams will not be swapping the wheels during the race.
T-Sport chief Russell Eacott says of the rules change: “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.