AP: Rounds 9, 10 Autopolis preview

New circuit, new challenges as Lee hopes to clinch title Formula BMW Asia heads to Japan's Autopolis Circuit for Rounds 9 and 10 of the 2004 season on September 4 and 5, where series leader Marchy Lee (Team Meritus) of Hong Kong hopes to...

New circuit, new challenges as Lee hopes to clinch title

Formula BMW Asia heads to Japan's Autopolis Circuit for Rounds 9 and 10 of the 2004 season on September 4 and 5, where series leader Marchy Lee (Team Meritus) of Hong Kong hopes to clinch the drivers' title, but much will depend on the performance of 24-year-old South Korean, You Kyong-Ouk (BMW Korea E-Rain).

"It would be great to win the series in Japan as I would be the new Formula BMW Asia champion when we arrive in Shanghai," Lee said recently, speaking about China's first Formula 1 Grand Prix for which the series will be a support event. Going in to the next rounds, Lee is on 150 points with You on 93.

So far Lee has won all but one of the eight rounds of the series, and is completely focussed on winning the championship. "I set out at the start of the year to really make my mark in Formula BMW Asia and I am determined to take the title," he said.

However, You will be going all out to keep his championship aspirations alive and given his strong showing so far this year which has seen him on the podium six times in eight races, Japan could well be the scene of an epic showdown between the two.

Currently lying third in the drivers' championship, Mehdi Benani of Morocco (Team Meritus), who also tops the Rookie Cup classification, is having a phenomenal debut Asian season and is itching for his first win.

An exciting new addition to the field for Japan is Hong Kong driver Michael Ting Chi-Hwa (Team E-Rain). Based in Shanghai, this will be the first ever race for the 24-year-old who has competed in karts in the US since the age of 19. A new signing for Team E-Rain, Ting has confirmed he will be racing in Japan and Shanghai, with a view to contesting a whole season next year.

The upcoming rounds will represent a steep learning curve for Ting as he gets to grips with the car for the first time and takes the measure of his fellow Formula BMW Asia competitors before the high-profile races in Shanghai later in September.

"I'm as fit as I can be and I've been working hard on the physical side of my training for the last three months," said Ting.

The 4.6km Autopolis Circuit will present new challenges to the drivers, particularly coming from two short and narrow tracks in Thailand and Beijing, China. "I've heard it's a very fast circuit, so I'll study all the data with the team to get the best set up," said Lee.

Hanss Lin Po Heng (Belgravia Motorsport) is on a high going to Japan, buoyed by his win in Beijing. "I'm confident about racing there. I have a lot of family in Japan and their support help. The circuit is the most technical in Formula BMW Asia so a good setup is important," he said, echoing the sentiments of Lee.

Aside from set up, physical fitness is key to driver performance and Formula BMW Asia Fitness Instructor, Roman Engel, is already working hard with the BMW Junior drivers.

"Some of the drivers are still suffering from neck strain from Bira (Thailand), so the workout training in preparation for Autopolis is definitely focussed on the neck muscles," said Engel, who studied sports science and teaching at Munich University and has worked with Formula BMW since 1999. "I am also working with the drivers to prepare their minds for the higher speeds of the circuit with mental training." Many "armchair enthusiasts" will be pleased to hear that these mental preparations also include playing video games to increase reaction times, but this is only in addition to a comprehensive and demanding physical programme.

Autopolis is certainly one of the most picturesque of all the circuits the series visits, and is located 800 metres above sea level amongst beautiful woodlands in the Aso volcanic mountains. Engel believes the high altitude will not be a factor for drivers who have achieved high endurance levels. "My goal is to bring the drivers to a very high endurance level so that they are able to race more laps than they are required to do in Formula BMW. Some are already at that level, others who are not will become tired faster and will lose concentration earlier than in a race held at sea level," he said.

Rounds 9 and 10 of Formula BMW Asia will be held on Sunday, September 5 over 10 laps each.

The ultra-modern Formula BMW which allows 15-year-olds to enter the world of motor racing has been lining up on the grid since the 2002 season. It sets standards above all on the safety technology front. The single-seater, driven by a 140 bhp BMW motorcycle engine that takes it up to 230 km/h, features a carbon-fibre chassis, fulfils the safety requirements of the much higher-performance Formula 3 cars, and even matches certain Formula One standards.

Formula BMW Asia, now in its second season, runs as part of the Asian Festival of Speed (AFOS) organised by Motorsport Asia Limited. This year the series is run over 14 rounds at seven venues, including Bahrain, where it was a support race to the Formula One Grand Prix, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Japan, with a second Formula One Grand Prix support race in Shanghai in September.

In 2004, Formula BMW will be staged in four different series held in Germany, the UK, Asia and the USA. Formula BMW events will be part of the Formula One support programme on five occasions around the world. All the series go hand-

in-hand with a comprehensive education and coaching programme, as well as substantial financial backing for promising young talent. The most distinguished graduate of this "talent hothouse" is Ralf Schumacher. The star of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team made his racing debut in the junior class in 1992.

BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen: "Our junior talent promotion scheme is an intensive basic education for successful kart drivers who want to move up into Formula racing. Our priorities are to create a level playing field through technically identical vehicles and scrupulously defined regulations, and to ensure maximum safety."

-bmw.asia-

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About this article
Series Formula BMW
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Mario Theissen , Marchy Lee
Teams Williams