AP: Maritus Racing F-BMW Korea preview

Team Meritus confident about taking the F-BMW Asia championship Irish-Malaysian Team Meritus look set to sweep this years Formula BMW Asia Championship, as the drivers head to Korea on August 23-24 for the second half of the season. Having won...

Team Meritus confident about taking the F-BMW Asia championship

Irish-Malaysian Team Meritus look set to sweep this years Formula BMW Asia Championship, as the drivers head to Korea on August 23-24 for the second half of the season. Having won every single race so far, Meritus is well in the lead of the Team Championship. 6 of the 8 wins have come from Chinese driver TUNG Ho-Pin (20), who leads the drivers' championship, followed by his team mate from Chinese Taipei, Hanss LIN Po-Heng (23).

Tung had a stunning start to the season, completely dominating the field at the first 2 races, in support of the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang. With very limited testing permitted by the organisers - in an attempt to keep costs down - the drivers had little experience in the Formula BMW single seaters at the first race. Nevertheless, Tung got to grips with the new machinery and a new track (for him), and set pole position by over a second. In the races, he pulled away from the start, and came home with huge margins of 15 seconds and 20 seconds respectively, in a 10 lap race.

"That was probably my best event so far," reminisced Tung, "everybody was unsure about driver ability and the handling of the car, so to win by such a margin under those conditions was a great feeling". His domination also caught the attention of a few of the F1 teams that were in Sepang. "Between races we went over to the F1 pits and chatted with a few teams, and some of them mentioned possible testing roles. But right now I'm focused on the next race, and ultimately the championship," said Tung.

After delays due to the SARS epidemic, Tung continued his domination in race 3, also in Sepang, despite losing out on the start to his team mate Lin. Side-by-side at the first corner, Tung decided to let Lin through; "the race isn't won at the first corner", Tung said after the race. Tung kept up with Lin for the whole race, and created an opportunity on lap 7 of 10 with a spectacular move on the last corner, taking the lead and eventually the chequered flag, with Lin close behind.

Race 4 saw misfortune for Tung, as he roared into the lead at the start, only to be forced into retirement with a failed rear suspension bolt. With Tung out of the way, Lin moved into the lead and kept his composure to etch out a lead and take the flag. "I knew something had happened to Tung's car, so I just waited for him to retire. Meanwhile the rest of the pack was getting very close, and it was really exciting defending my position" said Lin. His historic victory was the first ever in an international single-seater race for Chinese Taipei, which launched him into the spotlight back at home. "I was doing a lot of interviews for magazines and TV shows, which was great. I hope my achievement will set an example for other young drivers from Taipei," said Lin.

Races 5 & 6 saw the teams move to the Johor Circuit, in Southern Malaysia just above Singapore. On this tighter circuit with numerous height changes, Meritus once again stamped their authority by qualifying 1st & 2nd and 1st and 3rd.

Race 5 was a real thriller, with Lin again taking Tung at the first corner, until mid-way through the race when ominous clouds suddenly rolled in and released a torrential downpour. With no pit stops to change to wet tires, the drivers battled with the worsening conditions, and Tung found an opportunity to squeeze past Lin to take the lead. Moments later, however, Lin hit a puddle of water and aquaplaned off the circuit. This led the track stewards to red flag the race for safety reasons. Because Tung had not yet completed a full lap as the leader, the race results were determined by the positions at the end of the previous lap, which saw Lin take the win ahead of Tung. Race 6 saw Tung back on top, taking a lights to flags victory by 9 seconds, again ahead of Lin.

Races 7 & 8 were held at the tight and bumpy Bira Circuit, in Pattaya Thailand. Team Meritus was joined by young Hong Kong racer JIM Ka-To (18), who had never driven the F-BMW car before. Jim was hoping to gain experience in the remainder of the season to prepare himself for the full year in 2004, and he certainly proved he's got what it takes. After just 4 test sessions, Jim managed to qualify second in both races, coming as close as 0.088secs of Tung on pole. A high-speed shunt in testing resulted in a sore neck for Lin, which affected his performance because he could not gauge his speed under braking due to the pain. This put him in unfamiliar territory of 6th and 7th in qualifying, and it seemed like his weekend was over.

Race 7 saw Tung take the lead into turn 1, and he never looked back, pushing hard despite his lead, and won by 15 seconds, setting the fastest lap. Jim had a terrible start, which was understandable considering it was his first ever in the F-BMW. Having been swallowed by the pack, Jim proceeded to pick his way past the field, showing remarkable car control considering his inexperience in the car, and eventually finished an incredible second. Meanwhile, Lin managed a very good start from 6th, and he too began clawing his way through the field. Fighting to overcome the pain in his neck, Lin astonishingly finished third, completing a historic 1-2-3 for Team Meritus. "By lap 9 [of 20] I was ready to give up because of the pain," said the courageous Lin, "but I was so busy over-taking that before I knew it I saw the chequered flag."

In Race 8, Jim had a good start, and managed to keep up with Tung as they went into Turn 1. What followed was a nose-to-gearbox battle between the two Meritus drivers, with Tung eventually holding off Jim to take the win by 0.395secs.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, Jim Ka-To is having to miss the upcoming Korea race, and will remain in Hong Kong while his compatriots gain vital experience to further their careers in motor sports. Motor racing is synonymous with big budgets in the sporting world, which has traditionally restricted participants to those with a wealthy background. However, with today's interest in motor racing of all kinds, drivers are presenting unique sponsorship opportunities to companies for brand exposure, at a fraction of the cost of F1. This arrangement is mutually beneficial to both parties, with less-fortunate drivers being given the opportunity to maximise their potential, and companies showing their support for their young sporting heroes.

Meritus' other driver, young Malaysian rookie TJ Chin, has shown great improvement in his first year of formula racing, and looks set to keep moving up the field in the remaining races of the season.

The success of Team Meritus would not be possible without the kind support of our sponsors Pacific Regency Hotel Apartments, Pan Global Insurance, Honeywell and Taiwan -- Touch Your Heart.

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Series Formula BMW