f3-returns-to-phillip-islandWhen the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship for the CAMS Gold Star visited the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in May this year the margin separating season-long rivals Ben Clucas and Michael Trimble was just a blink of an eye.

Both drivers will be hoping to make that margin a little more comfortable when Australia’s Premier Open Wheel championship returns to the 4.46km circuit two hours south of Melbourne for round six this weekend.

Team BRM’s British import Clucas currently leads Victorian Astuti Motorsport driver Michael Trimble by 60 points heading into the expected Island battle, the 132 points still up for grabs in the final three rounds ensuring that the championship fight is well and truly alive.

Clucas dominated a saturated round at the circuit in May this year, scything his way through the field in the first race following a stop-go penalty to beat Trimble to the line by just .0031 of a second – the closest finish in series history.

The result spurred the Englishman on to win the following five races, taking his tally to nine out of ten race wins for the year.

Far from out of the fight, Trimble has past success at the circuit to fall back on and proof of strong dry weather pace at his home circuit after taking a pole position at the third round this year.

The Melbourne-based Astuti team recently completed a successful test session in preparation for the round to give their driver – who was second in the championship last year – his best possible chance at taking the title fight into the final two rounds of 2006.

“The test day was unbelievably good for us,” Said Trimble.

“We found something in the car that we had been missing all season and if we can carry that over to Phillip Island then we should be in a really good position. Until the test I thought the car had been good but now I know what I was missing out on. I’m really looking forward to the weekend.”

Victoria’s other clear hope for outright success comes from the resurgent Tim Macrow, who has posted an exceptionally strong middle section of 2006.

After scoring just one podium result from the first four races, Macrow has been on a roll since – scoring four thirds and two second-place finishes in the last six events driving his older-model Scud Racing Dallara F301, to come agonizingly close to his elusive first Formula 3 victory.

The second-generation driver has speed on his side and is a former pole sitter at the high speed circuit.

”We know we have the speed, we just need to put a full weekend together,” Macrow said.

”If it hadn’t have rained at Phillip Island in May we would have been right up there in both races and that would have given us a much better chance at scoring a win. Our car is really suited to the track and I’m confident that we will be quick again this weekend.”

22-year-old Macrow sits just 28 points behind Trimble (Also 22) and 88 points behind series leader Clucas.

A private little war has developed this season between Leanne Tander (#42 Fleetcare Tandersport) and Chris Gilmour (#17 StatchIT.com.au / Gilmour Racing), both drivers pushing themselves to the limit to close the small margin to the leaders.

Gilmour – 4th in the championship with 77 points – is just 3 points ahead of Tander with the battle for fourth having changed hands a number of times this season.

Tander, the first female driver to score a podium in Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 History, is at her best at Phillip Island having posted her best ever qualifying result to date at the circuit earlier this year; placing her Fleetcare-supported car just a two tenths from the top of the grid for race two.

Tander also made her Formula 3 debut at the circuit last season racing to a top six finish.

Another driver ready to shake up the leading group will be Stuart Kostera, who will make his second start aboard his PHR Scuderia F304-Renault entry.

Kostera, the 1999 Formula Ford Rookie of the year, recently completed his first ever Formula 3 test day at Winton and after a tough outing at Eastern Creek a month ago, will return to the circuit fired up for a stronger result this weekend.

“It was great to get some miles under my belt in one of these cars. We learnt a lot and got down to some good times even though the car was running the same gearing as at Eastern Creek. I think there’s still a lot more to come until I get close to the limit which is promising.” He said.

The PHR Scuderia entry will race with a stunning new livery this weekend, a result of the team’s commitment to complete the remainder of the 2006 championship season with Kostera – and team owner Maher Algadri when business commitments allow.

A massive battle between New South Wales and Victoria has been building between Kumho Tyres National Class participants Tim Berryman (#33 Delta Agriculture) and Ricky Occhipinti (#32 Formula-Uno-Racing), respectively.

Separated by 51 points in the championship – thanks in part to Berryman missing two rounds of the five held to date – the pair have been much closer on track, leading the way in the new-for-2006 National Class for 2001-specification cars only.

After dominating the first four rounds (Eight races), Occhipinti struggled at Eastern Creek recently and ceded ground to Berryman who took his first class win of the season. Both drivers have aspirations to race with the outright competitors this year and the inter-class battle is sure to spur them on to get closer to the front.

Victorian youngster Lauren Gray continues to hold a firm grip on the Kumho Tyres Trophy Class (For 1996 – 1998 Cars), despite both team boss Bill Maddocks and Graeme Holmes closing in on her lead in recent rounds.

The fastest circuit in Australia for Formula 3 cars, the field will average over 180kph per lap when the sixth round of the Kumho Tyres Australian Formula 3 Championship contest’s its sixth round – over two, 14-lap races on August 20th.

For more information head to www.formula3.com.au