AP: Sentul rounds 9-11 preview

Indonesian motorsport back on track as Formula BMW Asia makes debut. Citeureup Bogor, Indonesia -- When Indonesia became the first Asian nation to host a round of the prestigious FIA World Rally Championship in 1996, the country's future ...

Indonesian motorsport back on track as Formula BMW Asia makes debut.

Citeureup Bogor, Indonesia -- When Indonesia became the first Asian nation to host a round of the prestigious FIA World Rally Championship in 1996, the country's future motorsport aspirations looked promising. However, the crushing effects of the Asian financial crisis shortly thereafter hit the sport hard, as it did in many neighbouring countries.

However, interest in the sport amongst the vast population of 242 million lived on and, with improving economic conditions, motor racing is once again beginning to flourish. It is timely then that the region's premier single seater series makes its Indonesian debut this season.

According to local Formula BMW Asia driver Zahir Ali (18/Eurasia Motorsport), the arrival of the A1 Grand Prix in Indonesia last February, which featured home-grown racing hero Ananda Mikola, represented a watershed for the sport. Says Ali: "There is suddenly a lot more interest in motorsport from the public as well as commercial organisations since that event. Thousands of people came to Sentul Circuit and they saw an Indonesian competitor in an international event. The whole town was empty as everyone was at the track. It has had an extraordinary impact on the country, and already a lot more youngsters have taken up karting."

Ali is one young driver who is representative of the future of the sport in Indonesia. Competing in his first full season of car racing this year, he is following a family tradition. Ali's father was a keen motorcycle racer while both his elder brothers have raced, Ferhan competing internationally in karts and Meckel racing in Asian Formula 2000 in 2001 and 2002. Ali began karting at the age of eight, competing first at home and winning the domestic national karting championship twice, Ali clinched the Asian Kart Open Championship in 2003, taking the Malaysian Kart Open and Philippine Shell Kart Open titles the same year. Impressive results in Italy, the World Cup in Suzuka and in Malaysia followed, with Ali winning the Asian Open Championship in Macau last year.

At the recommendation of his brother, Ali chose Formula BMW Asia with which to step up to single seaters at the start of this season and admits he has found the transition a real test: "It is a big challenge to make the switch. It's more tiring that karting, both mentally and physically, and of course I've had to get used to the car. I believe mental and physical consistency is crucial to success in this series. It's not enough to be brave -- anyone can be that. You need to use your brain."

On hand to guide Ali , along with fellow Eurasia Motorsport team principals Mark Goddard and Martin Quick, is Piers Hunnisett. Hunnisett, who has been working in Indonesia since 1995, helped steer Mikola to Formula 3 and Euro F3000, and has played a significant role in the careers of are number of top drivers including Narain Karthikeyan, Nicola Kiesa and Alex Yoong.

The Briton believes Ali has a great deal of potential: "Ali is leading the way, along with BMW and Eurasia Motorsport, for other Indonesians to follow. We believe the upcoming rounds provide Ali and Formula BMW Asia with a tremendous opportunity to showcase the ideal next step to the large number of young karters in the country, as well as to demonstrate to companies the commercial benefits of involvement in such a prestigious series."

Rather than regarding the inevitable attention he will receive at his "home" event as an added pressure, Ali believes this will spur him on to perform well: "I hope I have a lot of support for the races. I have loads of friends in the karting community, so I hope they'll all be there to cheer me on!" Ali is currently 8th in the championship standings, with his best finish so far in Malaysia in May when he just missed out on a podium place.

Going in to Round 9, it is Australian Sam Abay (18/Team E-Rain) who currently leads the championship having won the last three rounds in Beijing in spectacular style. Rookie Earl Bamber of New Zealand (15/Team Meritus), who was the dominant driver in Malaysia in May, also taking three successive wins, is just 26 points behind, followed by the four BMW Juniors: James Grunwell of Thailand (17/Team Meritus), Daniel Ricciardo of Australia (16/Eurasia Motorsport), Dominic Storey of New Zealand (16/Eurasia Motorsport), and Aaron Lim of Malaysia (20/Eurasia Motorsport).

Completed in 1994, the sweeping 3.9km Sentul Circuit is in stark contrast to Beijing's tight and twisty Goldenport Track, and it will be interesting to see how quickly the drivers adapt.

In 2006, Formula BMW Asia includes 19 rounds, with the opening two rounds Official support races to the 2006 Formula 1TM Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix in March. Three further rounds in Malaysia followed in May, then it was on to China's capital Beijing. Following the Indonesian event, the series travels to Bira Circuit in Thailand, before returning to China for the 2006 Formula 1TM Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix.

Qualifying and Round 9 of Formula BMW Asia will be held on Saturday, July 22, with Rounds 10 and 11 the following day.

-bmw.asia-

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Series Formula BMW
Drivers Ananda Mikola , Narain Karthikeyan , Alex Yoong , Daniel Ricciardo , Aaron Lim , Zahir Ali , James Grunwell , Sam Abay , Earl Bamber , Dominic Storey