When the new-for-2010 FIA GT1 World Championship visits the legendary Nürburgring circuit this weekend, the ATS Formula 3 Cup is one of the major support acts on the event programme. As Germany's fastest single-seater series returns to the limelight for the penultimate round of the season, Felix Rosenqvist knows that the championship's second gathering in the Eifel mountains this year represents a perfect opportunity to put the disappointments of EuroSpeedway Lausitz - where he finished second in Race 2 but fought an ill-handling car all weekend - emphatically behind him.
At the previous Nürburgring round just over a month ago, Felix managed to take the chequered flag as runner-up to championship leader Tom Dillmann in both the weekend's races. Dillmann, however - whose skills at the legendary circuit outside of Koblenz has given him widespread reputation as a Nürburgring expert - has endured a more challenging campaign since and has not once finished on the rostrum over the last two rounds. During the same period, Felix and Performance Racing have amassed one victory and two podiums, and hopes of mixing it with the best once again remains high ahead of this weekend. Limited test mileage and a resultant less-than-optimised car made the last event at EuroSpeedway Lausitz a "tough experience" in Felix's own words, though, but having qualified on the front row in the first qualifying session and followed it up by getting to within 0.3 seconds of victory in Race 2, damage was still kept to a minimum.
After the July round was held on the Nürburgring's Sprint Circuit, the venue this time around will be the full-length Grand Prix installation famed for being one of the current two homes - the other being Hockenheim - of the German Formula 1 Grand Prix. Unlike the shorter circuit, the 5.148 km lap includes the picturesque drop down into the technical Dunlop corner, a challenge in its own right requiring responsive turn-in performance and a car which provides the driver with constant-radius stability and confidence. Although the geographic setting remains the same as one month ago, teams and drivers will virtually have to overcome an entirely new challenge due to the change of circuit layout as average speeds will be higher and braking points will have to be altered accordingly. The ever-present threat of rain, an inevitable part of every Nürburgring race weekend, adds further uncertainty to the mix and bodes for two highly unpredictable races.
For Motopark Academy, the last two rounds have meant a clear upward trend. Swede Jimmy Eriksson took advantage of two blistering starts to finish second behind team-mate Kevin Magnussen in the first, chaotic race at EuroSpeedway Lausitz, before going one better and winning Race 2 just 0.3 seconds clear of Felix to secure the first Swedish F3
1-2 for decades. The team's other drivers - Luis Derani and Rene Binder - have not showed the same flashes of speed as their team-mates, however, and Derani even had to relinquish his eighth place and single point from Race 2 last time out after he was deemed guilty of a dangerous manoeuvre against Dillmann (who was on his way back up through the field after an early drive-through penalty for jumping the start). Motopark Academy's armada of cars will be further increased this weekend, as Kevin Kleveros becomes the fourth driver from Sweden to contest an ATS Formula 3 Cup event this year. Kleveros normally competes in the Swedish and North European Zone Formula Renault championships, where he is currently second overall in both series (which, incidentally, were won by Felix in 2009).
At reigning ATS Formula 3 Cup champions Van Amersfoort Racing, Daniel Abt has become the latest driver to be hit by a dip in form. The German is constantly among the quickest in practice and qualifying, but has been having troubles in the races with numerous spins and collisions. As a matter of fact, Van Amersfoort Racing seem to have inherited some of the bad luck that haunted Performance Racing at the beginning of the year - as demonstrated by Stef Dusseldorp, who spun in the final corner of the final lap when leading the first race at EuroSpeedway Lausitz and lost an almost-certain victory. In Race 2, it was the misfortune of one of the team's most experienced drivers - Willi Steindl - that proved the point, as the Austrian crashed out of the race after being hit by Aki Sandberg when trying to lap the Finn. Up until then, Steindl had been battling for the lead with Eriksson and Felix and was understandably devastated by having to see his best drive of the year transform into gravel trap tears.
As the scene for the penultimate round of the season, the Nürburgring - on paper at least - has the potential to be the 2010 championship decider. Going into the weekend, Dillmann holds an 11-point lead over Abt at the head of the standings. With one additional point handed out for Pole Position in each qualifying session, and the same reward on offer for setting the fastest lap of each race, Dillmann could theoretically close the deal come Sunday. Behind Abt, the battle for third remains fierce as Magnussen continues to hold a small advantage over Dusseldorp (who is one point behind the Dane) and Felix (four points behind Dusseldorp). Although Felix has enjoyed a slight speed advantage over his two main opponents for the majority of the season, this is the time for clever driving and consistent scoring, and - as cliché as it may sound - every single mistake can become more decisive now than ever before...
Due to the hectic FIA GT1 World Championship schedule, initial ATS Formula 3 Cup testing will commence already on Thursday morning. You can follow every aspect of the weekend at www.felixracing.se, where the regular live commentary service from qualifying and the races will of course be available once again.
ATS Formula 3 Cup - Nürburgring (Grand Prix Circuit)