Asian motorsports champions Team Meritus have completed their first round of driver evaluations at the Sepang F1 Circuit, Malaysia, to begin selecting their 2004 line-up for Formula BMW Asia and Asian Formula Renault. Several drivers were invited...
Asian motorsports champions Team Meritus have completed their first round of driver evaluations at the Sepang F1 Circuit, Malaysia, to begin selecting their 2004 line-up for Formula BMW Asia and Asian Formula Renault. Several drivers were invited to this private test, including some familiar faces such as Hong Kong ace Marchy Lee, who has raced to success with Meritus in the past.
Marchy took victory in Beijing in Formula BMW Asia in October 2003, and was runner-up at the 50th Macau Grand Prix Asian Formula Renault Challenge. Other participants included young Malaysian James Veerapen, who took part in the first 2 rounds of the 2003 Formula BMW Asia series with Meritus, but was unable to find funding to complete the full season. Jonathan Chan, who also raced with Meritus in Formula Renault at the Macau GP, made the trip over from Houston USA for the test. Kenneth Chan of Hong Kong was also at Sepang, along with young Ozzie James Baudzus (15), who got his first taste of car racing after a successful career in karts. TJ Chin of Malaysia also dropped in for a quick test with his 2003 team, as he ponders his racing commitments for 2004.
Former Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong of Malaysia was on hand to give instruction to the youngsters, as they tried to get the most out of the high-tech Formula BMW Asia single seater in the shortest amount of time. "All the boys showed great potential and were very receptive of my advice," said Yoong.
Marchy Lee had the most experience in the F-BMW single seater, having raced 2 rounds in Beijing last year, and proved his ability by setting the fastest time of the 3-day test. His time of 2mins 11.8secs was quicker than the pole time of 2003 series champion Tung Ho-Pin, who dominated last year's championship with Meritus and went on to earn a test with the BMW.Williams F1 team.
"I could have gone faster if we had used new tyres in the morning. By the afternoon it was too hot to set a good time. But I think I've had a productive test, and I feel confident about fighting for the championship this year," said Lee at the end of the third day.
Jonathan Chan was second fastest, with 2mins 13.0secs, making the biggest improvement in the group. "After the first day my fastest time was 2mins 21secs, and I really felt like crying! But thanks to help from the whole team, especially Alex [Yoong] and my engineer Denny [Quinn], I managed to get down to 2mins 13secs. I think I could have gone faster, but rain stopped the session, and my body was really getting tired. The Formula BMW is a really physical car, and it punishes all your bad habits, which makes it a great car to learn in," said Jonathan Chan.
Kenneth Chan was third fastest with 2mins 13.4secs, which was very impressive considering this was his first time at Sepang Circuit. "I'm getting more used to the car and circuit, but so much concentration over 3 days has made me tired mentally. I really like Sepang, there are many technical corners that are very challenging. I'm very happy with this first experience," said Kenneth Chan.
Next up was Malaysian youngster James Veerapen, with 2mins 15.0secs. "I've gained a lot of confidence in the car, so I'm beginning to drive it like it's meant to be driven. Alex [Yoong] helped a lot by explaining the finer points of driving this car. I really believe the Formula BMW is the best series for young Asian racers," said Veerapen.
Yoong was impressed with the drivers and the team, and even made a few predictions for the season. "It was a very productive test for everybody, and none of the drivers displayed any bad habits. Meritus is one of the best racing teams in Asia, if not THE best, offering excellent opportunities for young racers to launch their careers. Marchy looks strong for the championship this year, lapping Sepang faster than Ho-Pin [Tung] did last year. Jonathan and Kenneth are quite close with less experience, so they should get closer and have a good chance for podiums and wins too. I'm glad I could lend a hand in the development of these Asian drivers," said Yoong.
Team boss Peter Thompson was also pleased with this first evaluation session, and is looking forward to the next one on January 27-29 which is open to applicants. "I think everybody performed very well, and we've found yet another bunch of talented Asian drivers. I'm sure there are more out there, and Meritus is here to offer them the best chance to maximise their potential. I must thank Alex [Yoong] for spending the time with the boys and offering them some invaluable advice," said Thompson.
Drivers aged 15 or older with at least 1 year of competitive karting experience and/or an international C racing licence are invited to send their bios to info@MeritusRacing.com, and Meritus will send them their 2004 Drivers' Guide which covers all details about services provided and costs.