With just over four weeks to go until the start of the eagerly anticipated Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship season, series organisers are confidently expecting a grid of around 20 cars for the first race meeting of 2012 after today, Thursday, 8th March, confirming the first 18 drivers.

Underlining the strong position Protyre Formula Renault BARC holds as the most cost-effective and popular junior single-seater championship in the UK, the healthy entry list is headed by four car line-ups from reigning champions Antel Motorsport and the title challenging Fortec Motorsports team.

British-born racer Raoul Owens (Cape Town, South Africa) and Russia’s Ivan Taranov (Oxford) will drive with Antel for their respective second seasons in the championship and will be joined by series newcomers Tom Oliphant (Tarporley, Cheshire) and Henry Chart (Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire).

Fortec’s line-up features 2011 Ginetta Junior Champion Seb Morris (Marford, Wrexham), karting graduate Laura Tillett (West Malling, Kent), Mexican 17-year-old Diego Menchaca – who is part of the same Escuderia Telmex driver programme as FIA Formula One World Championship racer Sergio Perez – and Chinese 18-year-old Martin Cao.

MGR Motorsport has confirmed three drivers for its 2012 campaign. Second year competitor David Wagner (Glasgow) remains with Mark Godwin’s squad and will be joined by James Fletcher (Windlesham, Surrey), who debuted with the team in last November’s end-of-year ‘Finals Series’ and won both races at Rockingham, and 16-year-old karting graduate Jake Dalton (Stoke-on-Trent).

Scorpio Motorsport, title winning team in 2008 and 2009, has filled one of its seats with Brazilian Henrique Baptista (Eastbourne) while MTech Lite has secured the signature of Sean Walkinshaw (Chipping Norton, West Oxfordshire) who will embark on just his second full season of motorsport.

Cliff Dempsey Racing makes a welcome return to Formula Renault competition this year with American 16-year-old Trent Hindman, 2011 Ontario Formula Ford Champion and part of the Team USA Scholarship. Middlehurst Motorsport GTR, meanwhile, will debut with series rookie Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens, Lancashire) the 2011 Formula Ford 1600 National Champion.

Rebranded team JWA-Avila, formerly JWA Motorsport, has signed two Formula Vee Championship graduates, dual British-New Zealand national Michael Epps (Hemel Hempstead) and Matt Tiffin (Bromley, Kent). Privateer runner Oliver Sirrell (Ingateston, Essex), winner of the 750 Motor Club’s Formula 4 Championship last year, completes the current list of 18 drivers.

SWB Motorsport, 2010 champions Hillspeed and RPD Motorsport have yet to confirm any drivers meaning, potentially, the 2012 Protyre Formula Renault BARC Championship grid could certainly exceed 20 cars, something series promoter Simon North says is testament to the strong foundations on which the category is built.

“We’re absolutely delighted with the number of entries we’ve received so far, 18 cars is a fantastic achievement in the current economic climate and goes to show drivers believe in the strength, stability and cost-effectiveness of racing in Protyre Formula Renault BARC”, commented North, “We had a truly outstanding season last year and I’m confident 2012 will be just as competitive.

“Of course, we still have four weeks to go until the start of the season so there’s scope for us to reach and even pass the 20 car barrier which would be incredible. I want to take this chance to thank all of our teams for making such a tremendous effort and for helping Protyre Formula Renault BARC to buck the current trend in national single-seater racing, we’re looking forward to a great year.”