AP: Rounds five, six preview

Thai youngsters upbeat on eve of home event Marchy Lee (Team Meritus) may have a commanding lead in the driver championship going in to rounds 5 and 6 of Formula BMW Asia, but his dominance of the series so far has done nothing to dampen the ...

Thai youngsters upbeat on eve of home event

Marchy Lee (Team Meritus) may have a commanding lead in the driver championship going in to rounds 5 and 6 of Formula BMW Asia, but his dominance of the series so far has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the two Thai youngsters as they head to their home circuit this weekend.

Formula BMW Junior driver Robert Boughey (Minardi Team Asia), and Maekkasit Weraporasu (Autosport with Arto), are both relishing the chance to shine in front of their home crowd at the 2.4km Bira Race Circuit in Pattaya, Thailand on July 10 and 11.

Said 21-year-old Boughey, currently second in the Rookie Cup classification behind Mehdi Bennani (Team Meritus) of Morocco, "Of course I will be proud to compete in front of the Thai spectators, and I will prove it by carrying the national flag with me in the car to show everyone my gratitude and thanks for supporting me!"

However, Boughey is full of fighting spirit and not content with his second place in the Rookie Cup standings. "At the moment I am a little disappointed because I think I should be leading. I might lack experience, but I do possess a strong will. I say to myself, "If he can do it, I should be able to do better." I hope I can win the Rookie Cup as I gain more experience throughout the year," he said.

Bangkok-born Maekkasit Weraporasu doesn't believe his knowledge of the Bira circuit will give him a big advantage, but will be trying his hardest to impress at the weekend. "I'll be under pressure of course, but I've been waiting for these rounds since the start of the season," he said. "The drivers in the series are good, and it isn't hard for them to adapt to new circuits, although this track is different to Bahrain and Sepang as it's quite narrow so they'll have to be more careful. Plus it's difficult to pass at Bira as there are limited overtaking opportunities."

Championship leader Lee, who has won all four rounds of the 2004 season so far, and is a confident mood heading to Thailand despite never having competed on the circuit before. "I'm delighted to have won the first four races, and hope to continue my winning streak if all goes well," he said. "I haven't raced in Bira before, but I think I'll only need a few laps to get used to the track. The circuit is short and has fewer high-speed corners compared with other tracks (Bahrain and Sepang, Malaysia). This could make life easier for the younger drivers, so the competition will be closer."

Formula BMW Junior, and winner of the 2003 Rookie Cup, You Kyong-Ouk (BMW Korea E-Rain) of South Korea goes into the next rounds second on the leaderboard, 26 points behind Lee. The 24-year-old, who has far less motorsport experience than Lee, is looking very strong this season with four podium finishes in as many races.

Third and fourth respectively in the overall Driver Classification are Tyson Sy and Dado Pena (Minardi Team Asia) of the Philippines. With only one point separating the young duo, competition between them will be fierce. Both drivers have come on in leaps and bounds since their Formula BMW Asia debuts at the start of last season and, at only 16 years-of-age, are now beginning to show their true potential.

Chinese Formula BMW Junior driver, Han Han (Team E-Rain) is also raring to go in his first ever visit to Thailand. "I like hot weather and think I'm really well prepared to show everyone what I can do there", said the Shanghai-born 21-year-old, who has already made his name at home in literary circles as a best-selling author and has set his sights on doing the same in the world of motorsport. "I lost a few positions in the Rookie Cup because of an incident in Malaysia, but I'm looking ahead and want to close the gap. I've never been to Thailand, but I prefer small race tracks."

Han is also looking forward to racing with new E-Rain team mate Gaby Dela Merced of the Philippines. Merced, also a Formula BMW Junior driver and the only female competitor this season, joins the team from the Thai rounds onwards. "It will be great to work together with Gaby and the team. Also, we have Ralf Kalaschek (Formula BMW Asia Series Chief Instructor), who will support us, so I am prepared", he said.

Merced, 21, who is new to single seater racing this year having competed in saloon and production cars since 2001, "I had a first test drive with the team after the last race in Malaysia, and immediately felt very comfortable with the car. I am proud to be part of the 2003 Rookie Cup champion's team (You Kyong Ouk), and as my new team is 2nd in the Team Classification right now, I believe I can show how good I really am with them."

Racing for the first time in Thailand will be the three series drivers from Bahrain: Sheikk Salman Bin Rashid Al Khalifa, Mohammed Al Baharna, and Hamed Al Fardan, third in the Rookie Cup standings. The three Belgravia Motorsport drivers will join team mate Hanss Lin of Taiwan, who is competing in his second season of Formula BMW Asia.

However, there is little doubt that all eyes will be on the two drivers flying the flag for Thailand this weekend, and Boughey, as a Junior driver, is keen to put all he has learned so far from the comprehensive Education and Coaching (E&C) programme, which forms part of the scholarship package provided by BMW

Motorsport, into practice. "The Formula BMW Asia E&C programme has been an essential factor for me this season. It is important for young drivers to learn, from an early age, what is expected from them and how to behave in this very professional environment. I take the training programme very seriously and I think it shows. You can't expect to gain from it if you don't give it more than you have. When I am at the track, I try to get everything I can from my coaches so that I can learn from my mistakes and make the most of myself."

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 in Bahrain, where it was a support race to the Formula One Grand Prix, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, China and Japan. It will culminate in 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."


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About this article
Series Formula BMW
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Mehdi Bennani , Mario Theissen , Tyson Sy , Marchy Lee , Han Han
Teams Williams