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WS Preview: Zolder and season.

Montanari returns to the World Series with newcomers Prema Powerteam, while Eric Salignon swaps Cram for Interwetten.com, Alx Danielsson DAMS for Comtec and Milos Pavlovic GD Racing for Cram Competition. Patrick Pilet did his moving late last season, joining GD from Jenzer, and he will be partnered this year by Matteo Meneghello, who joins GD from Eurointernational. Celso Miguez (Pons Racing) and Ryo Fukuda (Tech 1 Racing), meanwhile, stay put with their 2005 teams, even thought the Japanese driver's mount will now be run by the new owners of the former Saulnier franchise.

The old hands will be full with the challenge of keeping the new boys at bay, with a large contingent of F3 drivers stepping up to steal the glory. Apart from the likes of Kane and Valsecchi at Epsilon, both British and Spanish F3 champions make the move to the World Series. Alvaro Parente will run with Victory Engineering this year, having benefited from F3 entrant Carlin's new association with the Italian operation, while Andy Soucek is installed at Interwetten. Both have already demonstrated that they are worthy title holders, and 2006 contenders, with solid pace during pre-season testing.

However, to concentrate on champions is to overlook the likes of James Rossiter (Pons Racing) and Alvaro Barba (Jenzer Motorsport), both of whom step up from F3 careers in 2005. Rossiter is a highly-prized capture for Sito Pons' operation, having combined his season in the F3 Euroseries with a place on Honda F1's development scheme. The Briton, who struggled to repeat his 2004 British F3 form against stronger opposition in Europe, missed part of the pre-season due to his F1 commitments, but was immediately on the pace when he joined the World Series. Barba, meanwhile, is not in the same mould, but could surprise on occasion.

A third F3 champion also joins the fold this year, but it has taken several seasons for Robbie Kerr's promise to be recognised. Only John Surtees foresight in picking the Briton for his A1GP team appears to have resurrected Kerr's single-seater goals, and he finds himself at KTR alongside another Surtees-inspired A1GP pick, Sean McIntosh, who graduates as runner-up in the Formula Renault UK series. Both have adapted surprisingly quickly, especially given that the A1GP season and testing overlapped at the turn of the year, and KTR could yet find itself in with a shout of both titles.

Formula Renault also provides the World Series with Ben Hanley, who finished as runner-up in the Italian national championship last season. The Briton already has WS experience though, having jumped at the chance top graduate early, joining Cram at the end of the 2005 campaign. He has since gone on to be included on Renault F1's driver development programme, suggesting bigger things lie ahead should this season go to plan.

Pascal Kochem likewise takes a big step into the WS, but has shown glimpses of promise in testing, and could be considered among those relative unknowns who could possibly make an impact this year. Alessandro Bonetti is another, the Italian having appeared undecided on where to race in recent seasons, bouncing up and down the ladder as though it was also populated by snakes.

Four other drivers, apart from Kerr, have seen the World Series as a last refuge for their F1 ambitions, with Hayanari Shimoda turning his attention from GP2 and joining Parente at Victory, again a move instigated by Carlin. Borja Garcia actually sampled a full season of GP2 last season but, not having made a big enough impact on the series, finds himself at RC Motorsport this year, where he will be partnered by Frenchman Bruce Jouanny, whose own attempts to make the grade foundered on financial problems.

Completing the field this year are two drivers who should receive solid support at the opening round at least, and another who will be little known to many inside the paddock, let alone on the other side of the fences. Greg Franchi moves up from the F3 Euroseries to join WS rookies Prema, while Jerome d'Ambrosio returns for a full season at Tech 1 after managing just a single outing last year. Edwin Jowsey, meanwhile, has been hiding in historic racing in the UK, but is determined to make his mark with fellow newcomer Comtec this year.

The team line-up also received a shake-up over the winter, with one squad deciding that the World Series was not for it, another opting to concentrate on GP2 and a third deciding to follow the sportscar route. Three new faces have thus been recruited, with former racer Simon Abadie's Tech 1 taking over Le Mans-bound Saulnier Racing, Comtec getting the nod to join the series in place of backmarker Avelon and Prema getting a later call to sub for the departing DAMS. All three have decent pedigrees elsewhere and appear to have got to grips with the WS cars during testing, adding to the intrigue ahead.


Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Patrick Pilet - GD Racing
Davide Valsecchi - Epsilon Euskadi     [pic credit: Renault Sport media]
Edwin Jowsey - Comtec Racing   [pic credit: Renault Sport media]

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