AP: Autopolis rounds 11, 12 preview

Battle for 2005 Formula BMW Asia Title Heats Up. Oita, Japan - As Formula BMW Asia gears up for the penultimate meeting of the 2005 season, the fight for the Driver Classification title could not be more intense, with eight of Asia's most...

Battle for 2005 Formula BMW Asia Title Heats Up.

Oita, Japan - As Formula BMW Asia gears up for the penultimate meeting of the 2005 season, the fight for the Driver Classification title could not be more intense, with eight of Asia's most talented single seater drivers all still in contention.

The battleground this time will be Japan's 4.6km Autopolis Circuit. Always popular with the drivers, the picturesque circuit, high up in the volcanic mountains near Fukuoka, is markedly different from the tight and short tracks of Thailand, Beijing and South Korea.

Topping the leaderboard going in to Round 11 is the talented Bahraini duo of Salman Al Khalifa (Team E-Rain) 24, and Hamed Al Fardan (Team Meritus) 18, tied on 116 points. Both drivers have notched up six podium finishes so far this season, although Al Khalifa has four wins to his credit, one more than his fellow countryman.

Both drivers are contesting their second season in Formula BMW Asia, and will be acutely aware of Rookie Cup leader, Charlie-Ro Charlez (MAS/Team Meritus), who is snapping at their heals just nine points behind. Charlez, who turned 20 earlier this month, joined the series with virtually no karting or race experience, and has impressed all season, also notching up six podium finishes and taking pole for both Rounds 9 and 10 in Korea recently.

Impressively, the next four drivers on the leaderboard are all BMW Juniors and all in contention to take the title. Australia's Michael Patrizi (Team Meritus) 21, took his first and, many believe, overdue win in Korea earlier this month, while 16-year-old Indian sensation Armaan Ebrahim (Team E-Rain) showed his huge potential with a win in only his fourth Formula BMW Asia race in Malaysia in May.

Thailand's Robert Boughey (Team Meritus) has struggled with form recently, having begun the season with an emphatic win in Round 2, while South Korea's An Suk Won did much to put motor racing on the map in his home country, scoring his second podium so far this season at the Taebaek Circuit in Round 9.

Minardi Team Asia's karting star Aaron Lim (MAS) 20, is currently tied with An on 64 points. Lim only joined the series from Round 3, and recorded his first podium finish in Korea.

Formula BMW Asia's only Japanese driver this season, Mitsunobu Endo (Team Meritus), is looking forward to racing on the Autopolis track for the first time in his career.

Joining Endo and his fellow drivers at Team Meritus for Rounds 11 and 12 will be the series' first ever Jordanian driver, Hamza Dirani. The 21-year- old has secured funding from Jordanian company KADDB and the Jordanian Motorsport Federation. At the request of the Federation, Dirani will use competition number 99 which was previously used by the late Monarch, King Hussein of Jordan.

Dirani has considerable experience in both karting and rallying in the Middle East, but Formula BMW Asia will this weekend provide his first taste of single seater racing - and make him the first ever Jordanian national to compete in the category.

The final - and deciding - rounds of Formula BMW Asia will be fought on the Shanghai International Circuit as part of the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix on October 14 and 15.

Background:

Formula BMW is the world's leading entry-level class in Formula racing. In 2005 the series will be held in Germany, Britain, Asia and the USA. Up-and- coming drivers as young as 15-years-old are given the opportunity of entering motor racing with the high-tech, standard FB02 race car.

This racing car has been seen on the grid since 2002 and has set standards particularly on the safety technology front. The single-seater is propelled by a 140 bhp BMW engine up to 230km/h and exceeds by far the safety requirements for its class. BMW Motorsport has developed the FORS Formula Rescue Race Seat especially for Formula BMW. The HANS safety system is also mandatory.

In 2005, Formula BMW will be staged five times as part of the Formula One support programme. All the series offer a multifaceted Education and Coaching Programme as well as sponsorship for promising racing talents. The best-known alumni of this talent hothouse are Formula One drivers Ralf Schumacher and Christian Klien.

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Series Formula BMW
Drivers Christian Klien , Armaan Ebrahim , Michael Patrizi , Aaron Lim