AP: Beijing rounds 6, 7 preview

East Meets West for Crucial Mid-Season Double Header As word of the spectacular Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia spreads far and wide, the series continues to attract top drivers from right across the globe. As the teams and drivers prepare...

East Meets West for Crucial Mid-Season Double Header

As word of the spectacular Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia spreads far and wide, the series continues to attract top drivers from right across the globe. As the teams and drivers prepare to enter a crucial stage in the 2005 season -- with two double-headers in Beijing and then South Korea -- the stakes will be high as the field takes to the 2.4km Goldenport Circuit in China's capital city on July 16 and 17 for Rounds 6 and 7.

Making his Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia debut during the weekend will be Briton Simon Harrison. Harrison began his motorsport career in 1989 racing Formula First, before moving to Formula Ford the following year. In 1990, he was a McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award nominee. He moved to saloon and touring car racing in 1994, and has notched up a distinguished career in the categories, including campaigns in the British and European Touring Car Championships. No stranger to Asia, Harrison has contested the Macau Grand Prix Guia Race no fewer than five times, finishing on the podium in 2000.

Fellow Briton and talented Formula 3 pilot Danny Watts returns to the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia for the Beijing rounds, having competed in the first three rounds of the season in Malaysia. With backing from Noble Group, 25-year-old Watts is keen to make his name in Asia while at the same time working on his British single-seater career. Like his series-registered countryman and reigning British GT Champion Jonathan Cocker, who at 18 is the youngest competitor in the field and currently 4th in the championship leaderboard, Watts is eager to be part of the phenomenal growth of professional motorsport in the Asia.

However, proof of just how high the standard of racing in the region has become, it is an Asian driver who currently stands head and shoulders at the top of the leaderboard. Thailand's Charoensukhawatana Nattavude, a former motorcycle, single-seater and touring car champion, has an impressive 21 point lead over second-placed driver, fellow Thai and protege, Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak.

Although Nattavude has a comfortable cushion at the top, he is well aware of the increasingly high stakes and that there are six more championship rounds to go. The next five drivers in the championship standings are separated by just 16 points, with Vutthikorn, reigning champion A-Ha Racing's Matthew Marsh, Cocker, Team Jebsen's Darryl O'Young and Malaysian ace Rizal Ramli of Jaseri Racing, all snapping at his heels.

Team Eurokars Nigel Albon was definitely back on form in Thailand last month, taking a podium finish and putting two disappointing DNFs early on in the season firmly behind him. Sri Lankan Dilantha Malagamuwa, who has also previously raced motorcycles and single-seaters, has been putting in consistently solid performances.

If it looks crowded at the "sharp" end of the field, it is just as competitive in Class B, with Vutthikorn's Team Thailand partner, Sontaya Kunplome, and Hong Kong newcomer Alain Li, now jointly topping the championship standings. Just two points adrift is William "Chip" Connor, who suffered the setback of a DNF in the opening round, as did Philip Ma in Round 2, who is now in 4th.

As more European drivers are lured to Asia by the series, the global nature of Porsche's motorsport activity means it has become a two-way street, with no fewer than five of the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia series-registered drivers eyeing entries in the famous Le Mans 24 Hours in 2006. In preparation for this, Marsh and O'Young in the GruppeM Porsche GT3R, and Nattavude, Vutthikorn and Kunplome flying the flag for Thailand in a Porsche GT3 RS, will compete in the Le Man Endurance Series round at Italy's Monza circuit the weekend prior to the Beijing race.

Supporting the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia are two of the most recognised names in international motorsport, Mobil1 and Michelin. Mobil and Porsche have been partners since 1996. Close co-operation in research and development has led to every new Porsche engine being filled with Mobil1 high-performance lubricant. Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia drivers also have the advantage of racing on cutting-edge tyres supplied by series partner Michelin. The consistent performance and leading technology of Michelin tyres constantly improve the performance of many teams in international motorsport. The partnership between Michelin and the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia has emerged from a worldwide agreement signed between Porsche AG and the Michelin group.

The Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia runs as part of the Asian Festival of Speed, organised by Malaysian-based Motorsport Asia Limited.

About Infineon
Infineon Technologies AG, Munich, Germany, offers semiconductor and system solutions for automotive, industrial and multimarket sectors, for applications in communication, as well as memory products. With a global presence, Infineon operates through its subsidiaries in the US from San Jose, CA, in the Asia-Pacific region from Singapore and in Japan from Tokyo. In fiscal year 2004 (ending September), the company achieved sales of Euro 7.19 billion with about 35,600 employees worldwide. Infineon is listed on the DAX index of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: IFX). Further information is available at www.infineon.com.

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Series Porsche
Drivers Dilantha Malagamuwa , Rizal Ramli , Simon Harrison , Darryl O'Young , Charoensukhawatana Nattavude , Matthew Marsh , Danny Watts , Alain Li , Philip Ma