Jesse Wakeman has been given a late birthday present in time for the opening round of the 2009 F3 Australian Drivers Championship at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, stepping up to join the National Class just weeks after his 21st anniversary.

Wakeman, from the Adelaide Hills town of Kersbrook, will run a Dallara F304 prepared by experienced engineer - and former racing champion - Ian Richards' R-Tek Motorsport team, having shown himself to be one of the standout performers of the 2008 season when, driving an older model 2001 car, he managed to place inside the top six in both the final championship round and at the non-championship Gold Coast Indy 300.

This year, Wakeman should have the capability of finishing even higher, as his 'new' car managed outright podium finishes in the hands of former champions Tim Macrow and Karl Reindler last year.

"Last year was a learning year, but 2009 is all about getting some results," he insisted, "so it made sense to make the investment and step up a class of car to give us a better chance to feature higher on the results table. The car is very good and showed last year that it was not only capable of racing with the championship-class cars, but beating them as well.

"Last year was a huge help. We made the decision to go straight from Formula Vee to entry-level F3 and it has paid off. We looked at Formula Ford, but the costs were almost identical and it made sense to get in the faster car that was going to help my career further."

Running with R-Tek in front of his home crowd is already providing a thrill for Wakeman, who looks set to be the only South Australian in a field boasting a now-familiar international flavour at the Clipsal 500.

"I couldn't think of a better way to return to my home race than in a new car with someone like Ian Richards helping out behind the scenes," he admitted, "He has a wealth of information available to him and knows how to get the most out of a car.

"He has been instrumental in helping me get to this point in my F3 career, and now I can't wait to work with him and the R-Tek team to take another step up. It's going to be very exciting to make my debut in the new car at the Clipsal 500 - another exciting step forward in my goal to win the Australian Drivers Championship and the Gold Star."

Richards himself clearly believes that Wakeman is ready to step up a level, and sees no reason why a strong first-up result can't be achieved at the Clipsal 500 in two weeks' time

"There is no doubt that, at the end of last year, Jesse was driving very well and showed that he has what it takes to move up a level," he said, "Last year was his first full season in a real racing car and, after the big crash at Oran Park - where he was innocently involved in someone else's accident in Friday practice - set back the budget a long way, we weren't able to test anywhere near as much as we liked. But he still did a very good job.

"At Indy last year, at a track he had never seen and a place with a reputation for being one of the tougher street tracks around, he did a very good job and kept his nose clean. Because of that, he was able to finish inside the top five, and I can't see why, if he takes the same approach, a great result at Clipsal will be very possible."