Italian race driver Vicky Piria will become the first female driver to compete in the GP3 Series, after Trident Racing announced that it had signed up the 18-year-old for this year's championship.

Piria graduates from racing in Formula Abarth (European and Italian series) in 2011 and has also competed in Italian Formula Renault and Formula 2000 Light. Before being approached by Trident for their new GP3 squad, Piria had been expecting to move into Formula 3 in 2012.

"When Trident Racing explained to me the details of their GP3 Series program, though, I immediately knew that it was the right thing to do for me," said the Milan-born driver. "I wasn't scared at all in signing with a team I had never tested with."

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Piria makes no secret of the fact that GP3 is just one more step along the road to the ultimate goal of making it onto the F1 Grand Prix starting grid sometime in the future.

"I'm excited by the idea of racing at the same events of F1," she said. "I believe that every driver aiming at the most prestigious series in the world knows that GP3 and GP2 are proven stepping stones."

It's early days, however, and Piria isn't going to let herself feel too stressed by the sudden promotion into GP3 ahead of schedule.

"I feel no pressure. I know I can afford a year learning and I'm aware that my goal for 2012 will be to improve step-by-step every lap," she said, displaying a level-headed approach to her rookie GP3 season. "I know that there will be many tough aspects to overcome, especially because there will be a lot of more experienced drivers among my opponents."

Piria's signing is the first in the series by Trident Racing, which took over Addax's GP3 slot at the end of the 2011 season after the Spanish squad opted to withdraw in order to focus its efforts on GP2, where it is the current championship team.

Trident Racing, owned by Maurizio Salvadori, is yet to announce the other two team drivers who will be joining Piria for the 2012 season.

GP3 teams will be conducting their first pre-season testing session next week at the Portuguese venue of Estoril on February 22-23, with the season scheduled to start at Barcelona in Spain on May 11-13 and featuring the first-ever GP3 race on the streets of Monaco two weeks later.

Tio Ellinas signed by Marussia

Cypriot driver Tio Ellinas has been signed for the Marussia Manor Racing GP3 team for 2012, the team announced on Friday.

"I am very happy to join Marussia Manor Racing," said the 20-year-old racer. "It's a winning team and I am really looking forward to building on the progress made during the two tests. I felt immediately at home in the team and now I can't wait to get back in the car again and race in my first GP3 season."

"We are delighted to have Tio as part of the team this season," said team principal Pete Sliwinski. "He did a very good job at the tests at the end of last year, demonstrating that he has the potential to be fighting at the top. Now we have our complete 2012 driver line-up we can focus totally on getting ready for the first test before the start of another exciting season."

Ellinas won three races in British Formula Ford in 2010 before switching to Formula Renault UK in 2011 where he won two races and finished in third place in the championship.