Thirty full-time entrants have been confirmed for the 2017 season of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Championship that gets underway this weekend at the legendary Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy.
Whereas other championships appear to be struggling with depleted entry levels, the 2.0-litre category of Formula Renault appears to be thriving, with nine teams supplying the entrants, with drivers coming from all over the globe to participate.
Perhaps the championship favourite heading into the season will be Belgian Max Defourny, who is the highest place returnee from 2016 and remains with R-ace GP, the team that took him to third place in the championship and to a race win at Motorland Aragon.
Also remaining with R-ace GP is Briton Will Palmer, who ended the year last year with a victory at Estoril, while Robert Shwartzman switches to the team having raced for Josef Kaufmann Racing in 2016. Raul Guzman is the only rookie in the expanded four-car line-up, with the Mexican graduating from Italian Formula 4 where he finished third in the standings last year.
Josef Kaufmann Racing, who took Lando Norris to the title last season, has an all-new line-up for 2017, with two-time race winner Sacha Fenestraz moving to the squad from Tech 1 Racing. Fenestraz won the final race of the year in Portugal, while also claiming the honours in the inaugural Formula Renault 2.0 race in Monte Carlo.
The Frenchman will be joined by 2016 French Formula 4 Champion Ye Yifei, who took fourteen victories in twenty-three races in his title winning campaign, and Luis Leeds, who finished third in the British Formula 4 Championship. Both will be eyeing to impress in their rookie campaigns, and should benefit from Fenestraz’s experience to develop.
Tech 1 Racing have retained the services of Frenchman Gabriel Aubry for a second season, and he will be joined by Max Fewtrell, the British Formula 4 Champion and one of the latest recruits for the Renault Sport Academy.
Australian Thomas Maxwell also joins the squad alongside another Frenchman Thomas Neubauer, with all four hoping to emulate the likes of Dorian Boccolacci, Hugo de Sadeleer and Fenestraz as race winners in the category last season for Tech 1.
The AVF by Adrian Vallés squad have also retained one of their 2016 drivers in Henrique Chaves, with Peruvian Rodrigo Pflucker, who raced in the opening two races of last year with Cram Motorsport, joins the Portuguese racer, alongside Formula Panam champion Axel Matus and Gregorie Saucy, who steps up from finishing fourth in V de V Challenge Monoplace.
Fortec Motorsports have signed Alex Peroni, the Australian that showed great pace as a wildcard entrant in Estoril last year for minnows TS Corse and only just missed out on a podium, while SMP Racing-backed Aleksey Korneev switches from JD Motorsport.
Frank Bird, another driver to debut as wildcard entrant in Portugal, continues with Fortec for a full season this time around, while Malaysian Najiy Ayyad bin Abd Razak completes the line-up.
JD Motorsport also have a SMP Racing-backed racer in their team in the form of Aleksandr Vartanyan, with the sixteen-year-old having raced as a wild card entrant for Fortec in Estoril, while he will be joined by Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer, who made his single seater debut in the Toyota Racing Series during the winter.
Renault Sport Academy member Sun Yueyang, who makes his competitive single seater racing debut in 2017 after stepping up from karting, completes the three-car line-up.
Mark Burdett Motorsport have a two-car entry in 2017, with Indonesian Presley Martono being joined by the only female entrant in the field, Julia Pankiewicz.
Perhaps the biggest news for 2017 comes in the form of the addition of two teams to the grid, with MP Motorsport making a welcome return after a year away, while Arden Motorsport join the category as well. And both come with star names!
MP Motorsport have two Red Bull Junior Team racers on their books, with the very highly rated Richard Verschoor being joined by American racer Neil Verhagen, while the three-car line-up is completed by another Renault Sport Academy member in Jarno Opmeer. All three will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, but all three could, theoretically be, championship contenders!
Another Red Bull Junior will compete with Arden, with Daniel Ticktum lining-up for the Banbury-based squad. The former MSA Formula race winner linked up with Red Bull over the winter, and will be joined by Australian Zane Goddard, a race winner in British Formula 4 last year, and by Belgian Ghislain Cordeel, who competing in three rounds and had a best finish of thirteenth for GMMA Formula Racing in Eurocup last year.
The field is extensive, and there are a whole host of strong drivers on the grid in 2017, and if previous seasons of Formula Renault 2.0 are anything to go by, the expanded field can only improve the racing even more. Let the games begin!