AP: Zhuhai round 18 summary

Bamber reclaims series lead and clinches Rookie Cup. Zhuhai, China -- As the battle for the 2006 Formula BMW Asia Drivers' title approaches its exciting climax, Earl Bamber (NZL/Team Meritus) strengthened his chances today, taking an emphatic ...

Bamber reclaims series lead and clinches Rookie Cup.

Zhuhai, China -- As the battle for the 2006 Formula BMW Asia Drivers' title approaches its exciting climax, Earl Bamber (NZL/Team Meritus) strengthened his chances today, taking an emphatic victory in the penultimate round to reclaim the lead. At the same time, he clinched the 2006 Rookie Cup title with an impressive 12 wins.

Despite doing his best to reverse his fortunes after yesterday's disappointment, Formula BMW Junior Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Eurasia Motorsport) was unable to find a way around the hard-charging Bamber. Fellow Junior Dominic Storey (NZL/Eurasia Motorsport) crossed the line 3rd, ahead of team mate Zahir Ali (INA/Eurasia Motorsport).

Bamber's win gives him a five point lead over Sam Abay (AUS/Team E-Rain) who had led the points table since the Beijing rounds in June. Zahir Ali (INA/Eurasia Motorsport) is not eligible to score points this weekend, having elected to forgo them under a regulations clause relating to the test ban. Abay, therefore, scored 10 points for his 5th place finish.

Bamber didn't put a wheel wrong from pole to chequered flag throughout the 12-laps race. However, right off the start Ricciardo made his intensions clear and began piling on the pressure in a reverse of the situation in Round 17. Behind them, Abay was up to 3rd on the opening laps, with Ali up to 4th by Lap 3 having got by James Grunwell (THA/Eurasia Motorsport). By the next lap, however, Storey was up to 4th and closing in on Abay, ready to take advantage when the Australian made an error under pressure and the Kiwi grabbed the final podium place, with Ali getting by into 4th.

Bamber was cool and confident after his win, apparently immune to the mounting pressure: "The track temperatures were a lot hotter and the car felt completely different. I had a good start but Daniel made it really tough, he's really fast this weekend and he put me under a lot of pressure. I hope we can find more pace for the next race. It's good to be leading the championship again, and we'll be hoping for the best."

Abay, by contrast, has been feeling the pressure all week: "My start (from 4th) was good and I didn't want to make a move on James too late in the race. I out braked him at hairpin on opening lap. I chucked it in on the inside and held him off. He got back on the next corner and passed me on the inside. I did the under and over. I was back down to 5th on the penultimate lap, but on the final lap I caught up heaps -- the horns came out of my head! I'm bitterly disappointed, but the more I race the better I get."

Abay is planning on a "demon start" for the final race to decide the Formula BMW Asia 2006 champion, but Ricciardo is determined to bag a win this weekend: "I can improve my start a little and get him (Bamber) off the grid. I'll give it all I've got. It's going to be a close race."

As the grandstands filled with the several thousand enthusiastic Chinese fans, the stage is well and truly set for a thrilling season grand finale.

-credit: bmw, asia

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Series Formula BMW
Drivers Daniel Ricciardo , Zahir Ali , James Grunwell , Sam Abay , Earl Bamber , Dominic Storey