AP: Bahrain season opener preview

Formula BMW Asia Gears up for 2005 Season. Sakhir, Bahrain - The Formula BMW Asia 2005 season roars to life this weekend with the opening two rounds part of the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix programme. The new BMW Performance Center at the ...

Formula BMW Asia Gears up for 2005 Season.

Sakhir, Bahrain - The Formula BMW Asia 2005 season roars to life this weekend with the opening two rounds part of the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix programme.

The new BMW Performance Center at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) was the venue for the evaluation and license courses for the Formula BMW Scholarship programme earlier this year, so it is fitting that the series should get underway at the impressive, state-of-the-art facility. BIC will also play host to the first ever Formula BMW World Final in December, which will see the top drivers from the four regional Formula BMW Series (Germany, the UK, Asia, USA) go head-to-head for the first time for a 60,000 US dollar purse and, for one of them, the realisation of a dream - a chance for some laps with the BMW WilliamsF1 Team.

Promoting the Formula BMW World Final this weekend will be Bahrain's Mohammed Al Baharna, who competed in the series last year, and Mohammed Mattar, in the two official BIC/BMW Motorsport promotional cars. The drivers, two of Bahrain's most talented youngsters, will drive the pair of specially liveried cars for the opening rounds which will be run this weekend by Minardi Team Asia.

With all eyes on the Middle East this weekend, the pressure will certainly be on the series-registered Formula BMW Asia pilots from Bahrain competing in their "home" event. Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain finished 6th in the championship at the end of his debut season last year. Competing this year with Team E-Rain, the 23-year-old notched up an impressive six top five finishes last year.

Hamed Al Fardan, also from Bahrain and about to embark on his second Formula BMW Asia season, will be looking to impress on home ground and build on his progress last year. At just 17 years-of-age, Al Fardan impressed in 2004, notching up two second-place finishes in Shanghai and South Korea. With the search now on for the first Middle Eastern Formula 1 driver, this weekend could be crucial to Al Fardan's career.

New to the series are four of the five Formula BMW Juniors, each winners of a 50,000 US dollar subsidy and season-long Education and Coaching Programme. The youngsters this year are: 20-year-old Wang Jian-Wei (CHN/China Team); An Suk-Won (KOR/E-Rain), 18; Armaan Ebrahim (IND/E- Rain), who at just 15 is the youngest driver in the field; and Michael Patrizi (AUS/Team Meritus), 20.

Also making their Formula BMW Asia debuts this season are 20-year-old Colombo-born Sri Lankan, Dejan de Zoysa (Minardi Team Asia), who is entered in the 2005 Rookie Cup, and team mate Jonathan Chan (23) of Hong Kong.

As well as fielding Chinese hopeful Wang, the new Team China, headed by Macanese motorsport veteran Ao Chi-Hong, will run China drivers Song Ge (18) and Chia On (15) for the opening rounds in Bahrain. Ao is active in the development of motorsport and racing drivers in the world's most populous country where, like the Middle East, the hunt is on for its first Formula 1 hero.

Joining Patrizi at two-time Team Championship winners Team Meritus, will be Robert Boughey of Thailand (22), recipient of the final scholarship, Japan's Endo Mitsunobu making his debut this season.

Round 1 of Formula BMW Asia will be held on Saturday, April 2, with Round 2 on Sunday afternoon. Both races will be run over 10 laps of the 5.4km Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

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 FB2 race car.

This racing car has been seen on the grid since 2002 and has set standards particularly on the safety technology front. A single-seater propelled by a 140 bhp BMW motorcycle engine up to 230km/h, it exceeds by far the safety requirements for its class. BMW Motorsport has developed the FORS Formula Rescue Race Seat especially for Formula BMW and 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, Christian Klien and Timo Glock.

BMW Motorsport Director, Mario Theissen: "Formula BMW offers talented young drivers more than just a car. In the Education and Coaching Programme we have designed specially for them, they learn everything they need to know to hold their own in the big wide world of motor racing. Formula BMW has shot out of the blocks to become the top entry-level class for Formula racing worldwide."

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About this article
Series Formula BMW
Drivers Christian Klien , Timo Glock , Armaan Ebrahim , Mario Theissen
Teams Williams