AP: Rounds 13, 14 Shanghai preview

The battle for the 2005 Formula BMW Asia title will be decided next weekend at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of China in Shanghai, and never have the stakes been higher after the closest season in the series' history. Hoping to follow in the...

The battle for the 2005 Formula BMW Asia title will be decided next weekend at the Formula 1 Grand Prix of China in Shanghai, and never have the stakes been higher after the closest season in the series' history.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of 2003 champion, Ho-Pin Tung, currently well in to a successful Formula 3 career in Europe, and last year's winner, Marchy Lee, is 24-year-old Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain (Team E-Rain). Al Khalifa comes to Shanghai having taken two victories in Japan last month, opening up a 29 point championship lead over exciting BMW Junior and Rookie, 21-year-old Michael Patrizi of Australia (Team Meritus). Al Khalifa has shone this year, taking six victories so far, but the determined young Australian has put more than his fair share of ill luck behind him to get back in the championship game.

But, with 40 points up for grabs this weekend two other drivers are still in contention for the title. Al Khalifa's fellow Bahraini driver, Hamed Al Fardan, 18, (Team Meritus), has notched up six podiums this season and is just one point behind Patrizi in the title chase. Charlie-Ro Charlez, 19 (Team Meritus) a Rookie in his first ever season of car racing, has taken an impressive seven podiums this year and, although he would need to take victory in both races this weekend to win the title - making him an outside chance - he has already done enough to get himself noticed in this ultra- competitive sport.

However, the contest for second place in the Driver Classification will be as hard-fought as that for the title. With Al Khalifa just outside the age regulations to take the prize of a full free season in the Formula BMW UK Championship in 2006 (should he win the title, he would instead be awarded USD 20,000 in prize money), Patrizi, Al Fardan and Charlez will be doing battle for the chance to make the all-important next step to Europe.

And there is all to play for in the Rookie Cup Classification too with a USD 50,000 scholarship and a full season of the Education & Coaching Programme on offer for the winner. Patrizi currently leads Charlez in the standings by just nine points. Theoretically, Indian sensation and BMW Junior Armaan Ebrahim, 16 (Team E-Rain) could also take the title by just one point if he were to win both remaining rounds and his two rivals were not to score points. Ebrahim was just 15 when he joined the series at the beginning of the year and recorded his first victory in only his fourth outing. Evidently there is far more to come from the talented youngster who is a driver on Team India's A1GP team.

Although no longer in the running after a superbly exciting season, the rest of the field is guaranteed to provide some exciting on-track thrills in Shanghai. BMW Junior, Thailand's Robert Boughey (Team Meritus), has had a disappointing second season despite a promising early win in Bahrain, while another Junior, South Korean An Suk Won (Team E-Rain) has shown immeasurable improvement since the start of the year. Karting ace Aaron Lim (Minardi Team Asia) joined the series after the first two rounds which put him back in the points, but he has shown glimpses of his undoubted talent all year.

Chinese racing fans will have their own driver to cheer on this weekend in the form of BMW Junior Wang Jian Wei (Ao's Racing Team). The 20-year-old, Hebei-born driver has learned much from his first single seater season, having competed in rallying and saloon car racing in China previously.

Formula BMW Asia is unique amongst junior single seater series in the diversity of nationalities represented on the grid and in its geographical reach. This year, the series has competitors from as far West as Bahrain and India, and as far East as Japan and South Korea. And the search is about to begin for next year's crop of BMW Junior drivers.

In addition to the BMW Scholarship awarded to the winner of this year's Formula BMW Asia Rookie Cup, a further three are on offer to youngsters who wish to make the step from karting to single seaters - or even to begin a motorsport career from scratch. The BMW Junior Scholarship trial will be held from October 27 to 30 at the BMW Performance Center Bahrain located at the Bahrain International Circuit. The three-day trial, after which a decision will be made on the lucky winners, is open to anyone aged between 15 (16 during the 2006 season) and 21.

Although the Formula BMW Asia Driver and Rookie Cup titles will be decided this weekend, the season will not be over as, in December, the Bahrain International Circuit will host the first Formula BMW World Final. Drivers from the four regional Formula BMW series will compete against each other and the winner will earn what young drivers everywhere dream of - a Formula One test drive.


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Series Formula BMW
Drivers Ho-Pin Tung , Armaan Ebrahim , Michael Patrizi , Marchy Lee , Jian Wei Wang