AP: Bira qualifying report

Bamber records seventh pole. Pattaya, Thailand -- New Zealander Earl Bamber (16/Team Meritus) notched up his 7th pole position in 12 races in Thailand today after a frenzied qualifying session which saw four different drivers take ...

Bamber records seventh pole.

Pattaya, Thailand -- New Zealander Earl Bamber (16/Team Meritus) notched up his 7th pole position in 12 races in Thailand today after a frenzied qualifying session which saw four different drivers take provisional pole. Second fastest at the end of a qualifying run interrupted by a red flag was BMW Junior Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Eurasia Motorsport), followed by championship points leader Sam Abay (AUS/Team E-Rain), both of whom topped the times during the hard-fought session.

BMW Junior Aaron Lim (MAS/Eurasia Motorsport) was fourth fastest, his best qualifying position so far this season, and the talented 21-year-old also topped the times at one stage, with fellow Junior Dominic Storey (NZL/Eurasia Motorsport, fifth. Local hero, James Grunwell (17/Team Meritus), currently third on the driver standings, was a disappointed with his 6th place starting position, and refused to put it down to the added pressure of competing on home turf: "It was me!," he admitted. "I went out on new tyres and the brakes weren't up to temperature, so I went off. I came back and then hit traffic--. And then I got angry with myself and that was that."

Bamber, meanwhile, who trails Abay by 33 points in the championship battle, was pleased to have Ricciardo separating the pair: "It's good to have someone in between Sam and me. It's important to our championship campaign to claw back some points, so we need a couple of guys between me and him." Bamber has only once failed to convert his pole position into a win, and that was down to a broken gearbox, making him odds-on favourite in the race.

Abay believes the oil and grit on the track in the first part of the session affected his set up, but admits he probably misjudged the competition. "Earl set the pace in the first part of the session, then, at the re-start, I set the pace and thought my time was good enough so I came in. It didn't work out that way and, with just four minutes to go, I thought I'd just go for it so I went out again. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to go quicker."

Times were predictably close on the 2.4km tight and twisting Bira Circuit and the chicanes provided the drivers with a true test. Commented Ricciardo: "It's a real challenge. You're right on the edge all the time." The stage is set, then, for a memorable battle as the Formula BMW Asia field takes to the track for the 12 Round of the 19-race season this afternoon.

Meanwhile, current and former Formula BMW Asia drivers have been spreading their wings far and wide. Just days before the Thailand races, Lim was at the UK's Silverstone track testing for the Malaysian A1 Grand Prix team. The Malaysian ace is hoping for a seat next season, but is keen to hone his racing skills further beforehand. Ricciardo impressed on his UK debut, finishing 8th in the second Formula BMW UK Championship round at Snetterton.

Last year's Rookie Cup winner, Australian Michael Patrizi, currently contesting the 2006 Formula BMW UK Championship courtesy of BMW Motorsport, also impressed on his Champ Car Atlantic debut in Montreal Canada recently. Patrizi, competing for the Team Australia Atlantic, was eighth in Round 11 and set the fastest lap of the race.

-credit: bmw.asia

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Series Formula BMW
Drivers Michael Patrizi , Daniel Ricciardo , Aaron Lim , James Grunwell , Sam Abay , Earl Bamber , Dominic Storey