F3 CHAMPIONS: BATHURST IS THE 'BIGGEST CHALLENGE YET'

THE TWO AUSTRALIAN F3 Champions in the 2012 field say the series’ debut at the Bathurst Motor Festival this week is the ‘biggest challenge’ in its twelve-year history.

2008 champion, Englishman James Winslow and reigning titlist Chris Gilmour might be bitter rivals for the championship once again - however both also agree that the forthcoming Bathurst challenge represents something truly exciting.

Formula 3 open-wheelers have never raced at Bathurst ensuring that the Bathurst Motor Festival presents not only a massive challenge to drivers – but also to as they attempt to set up the vehicles for the circuit.

But with more than 180 F3 race starts and 30 wins between them, both drivers agree it’s perhaps the most exciting moment in Australian F3 history.

“In my career I have been very fortunate to race Formula 3 cars at great places like the Macau Grand Prix and Spa Francorchamps in Europe – and this should be right up there with those amazing tracks,” Winslow said.

“Bathurst is an amazing circuit and known around the world as one of the best circuits anywhere so to be able to drive Australia’s fastest racing cars there is a privilege.

“I think at the end of Conrod Straight we’re going to be really shifting, quicker than any speeds we’ve ever reached in Australia before because there are no straights that long. When we get that quick we create a lot of downforce it will mean braking into the chase is going to be amazing – just huge.

“The top of the Mountain has some really quick left-handers which will be fifth or sixth gear corners and that will be exhilarating, for sure.”

Gilmour, who edged out Winslow to win the 2011 title by just a handful of points late last year, says his forthcoming return to Mount Panorama is ‘like going back to the early part of my career’.

“I can’t wait – I’ve been hanging out for years to get back after racing Formula Fords there in 2003,” the Queenslander said.

“To be racing back at the Mountain in Australia’s fastest open wheeler is going to be amazing.

“I can’t wait to see if it’s flat out across the top – through McPhillamy and onto Skyline. It’s an amazing bit of road and I’m really excited to see how quick we can go there.

“Coming over the hill, all you can see are paddocks and a race track that just dips away into nothing. To take that on in an F3 car will be something else.

Of course, the biggest question of all is with regards to what sort of lap times the nimble, 540kg, 220hp Dallara’s will produce around the 6.213km circuit.

“I’m really interested to see what sort of lap times we can do there,” Winslow said.

“.. and I’m hoping around the low two-minute mark. If we can go under two minutes it would be pretty sensational but I think a high 2:01 lap will be where we sit.”

Gilmour agreed: “We were joking about it and putting some money on who was going to do what – and I went out there a bit and said sub-two minutes, but I think probably something like 2m01s and 2m02s are going to be the benchmark.

“But it will be very, very fast.”

The Bathurst Motor Festival will double as round three of the F3 Australian Drivers Championship, Englishman James Winslow leading the standings after an impressive start to a year. Defending champion Chris Gilmour – who beat Winslow last year – sits second in the standings.

A compact yet hugely competitive field will tackle the mountain across three races, on Saturday and Sunday.

They will be joined at the Bathurst Motor Festival by the Production Sports Cars, Aussie Racing Cars, HQ Holdens, Group N Historic Touring Cars and Regularity events for the NSW Road Racing Club and the Porsche Club NSW.

With three big days of on-track action, spectator entry to the April 6-8 event at Mount Panorama will be via a ‘bank note’ donation to official Event charity, Legacy.