AP: Sepang round one preview

Sterling International Field for Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia Season-Opener Tensions are running high amongst the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia field of the region's -- and one of Europe's -- top sportscar specialists as they prepare...

Sterling International Field for Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia Season-Opener

Tensions are running high amongst the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia field of the region's -- and one of Europe's -- top sportscar specialists as they prepare for the start of the 2005 season next weekend. Round 1 of the 11-round season gets underway as part of the Malaysian Formula 1 weekend at Sepang International Circuit on March 19 and 20, and will see the most competitive field ever.

The field, all driving identical Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racing machines, features many of the drivers who have helped establish the series as arguably the most exciting in Asia, as well as some interesting newcomers.

Chomping at the bit to get his 2005 campaign underway and defending champion is Briton Matthew Marsh and his dynamic A-Ha Racing team. Marsh took the title by just three points from racing veteran Charoensukhawatana Nattavude last year, and the Thai is back again for another crack at the crown, this year with a brand new outfit SCC Racing Team. SCC is run by the Beijing-based Sports Car Club, and represents their first foray into regional motorsport.

Embarking on his second season will be local hero and former Formula 3 racer Rizal Ramli with the Jaseri Racing Team. Fourth on the leaderboard at the end of 2004, Ramli ably demonstrated his spectacular racing style as well as steely determination throughout last season. Also lining up on the grid again will be popular Sri Lankan driver Dilantha Malagamuwa, this year with A1 Racing, as will 2003 championship runner up Nigel Albon who returns after a one year absence, this time with Eurokars Racing.

On top form going in to the new season are Hong Kong's Darryl O'Young and Team Jebsen. O'Young's memorable performance in the closing round at Macau last year left a real impression, and his podium finishes in New Zealand over the winter confirm this young driver's star is definitely on the rise.

Reigning British GT Champion Jonathan Cocker will be one to watch as he launches his assault on Asia. Competing this season with GruppeM Racing, the 18-year-old won his only outing in the series last year in Shanghai but, as he himself admitted "not by a mile". He is well aware of the intensely competitive field and will have his work cut out adapting to a combination of new circuit and the unforgiving heat of Malaysia.

Another new team this year is Team Thailand which sees the pairing of series regular Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and fellow countryman Sontaya Kunplome. The two drivers, Vutthikorn competing in Group A and Kunplome in Group B for amateur drivers, will fly the flag to promote their country as the series travels across Asia during the year.

Other series-registered drivers in Group B this year include Philip Ma of Hong Kong, who finished fourth in the class last year, William E. Connor II, who will contest the full season having had a "taster" of the series during one outing in 2004, and newcomer Alain Li of Hong Kong who is returning to competition after six years and racing a Porsche for the first time in his career.

The non-series drivers looking to make an impression on front of the Formula 1 crowd in Malaysia, and who could well spring some surprises, are: British Formula 3 ace Danny Watts of the UK, 2002 British Formula Renault Champion and 2001 BRDC McLaren Autosport Driver of the Year finalist, racing in Malaysia for Porsche Asia Pacific; Nicklas Karlsson of Sweden, second runner up in the Scandinavian Porsche Carrera Cup last year and former Scandinavian Formula 3 Champion with Podium Racing; endurance specialist and racing instructor, Sven Herberger of Germany; and Michelin test driver Jerome Haslin of France, also racing for Porsche Asia Pacific.

Also joining the series for the opening round are Thai drivers Chonsawat Asavahame and Manit Vravut, both racing for Porsche Asia Pacific.

Commented Porsche Asia Pacific Regional Marketing Manager, Dr. Henrik Dreier: "This has to be the most competitive field ever assembled for this series, if not for any series in Asia. One of the key elements of one-make racing is that it gives a level playing field to showcase driver skill. The Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car gives these drivers the performance and reliability to be at their very best. With this potent combination of talent, experience and technology, we can guarantee a spectacular race and an extraordinary season."

Round 1 of the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia will be run over 10 laps of the 5.6km Sepang International Circuit on March 20, 2005.

The Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia will visit a further five venues around the region during the 2005 season, which will feature no fewer than three rounds in China, providing a challenging contrast of circuits: Bira in Thailand, Beijing's Goldenport Circuit, Taebaek in South Korea, Shanghai International Circuit, where the series is once again a support race for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, with the final round on the demanding Guia street circuit during the 52nd Macau Grand Prix in November.

Supporting the series 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 to 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 , Darryl O'Young , Jonathan Cocker , Charoensukhawatana Nattavude , Matthew Marsh , Danny Watts , Alain Li , Philip Ma Chingh Yeung