USA: UK: D: AP: Four series, four faces

Formula BMW: four series, four faces Munich (July 30, 2004) - Indianapolis, Sepang, Hockenheim, Silverstone: magical names to any motor racing fan. Formula BMW's up-and-coming young drivers have already been demonstrating their skills on these...

Formula BMW: four series, four faces

Munich (July 30, 2004) - Indianapolis, Sepang, Hockenheim, Silverstone: magical names to any motor racing fan. Formula BMW's up-and-coming young drivers have already been demonstrating their skills on these unique race tracks this year. Says BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen: "Formula BMW has established itself as the premier junior racing series." And it's going more and more global: in 2004, Formula BMW is being staged in Germany, Asia, the USA and Great Britain, and there's certainly no lack of remarkable young people taking part. Reason enough to turn the spotlight on four personalities from the four Formula BMW series:

Alexis Fenton , Formula BMW USA.

Alexis Fenton already had a soft spot for fast cars as a college student. Her concerned stepfather paid for her to do a road safety training course at the famous Skip Barber Driving School for her 20th birthday three years ago. As soon as she arrived there, Fenton noted that the school also offered a training course for racing drivers, instantly swapped her safety training course for it, and discovered a new passion: motor racing.

From that moment on Alexis Fenton's life would change radically. Against her family's will, she abandoned her medical studies and invested her entire savings in training to become a racing driver. At the time everyone thought it was just a phase I was going through," says the 22-year-old looking back, but I was serious.

After working her way up through the various race series over the last few years, she now gets her driving pleasure from Formula BMW USA, although she's still a long way off from the top placings - her best result so far bas been one eleventh place. "I'm a late starter. I missed out on the years of experience in a go-kart that the other drivers have," says Fenton, who as the daughter of a German mother has both US and German citizenship.

Fenton still has problems with slow turns: I always want to be really fast and then I brake too late. That costs me a lot of time when coming out of a corner," she says. "But I'm learning fast."

She has secured one of America's largest plant mail order companies as her main sponsor. Easily spotted on the track in her bright yellow FB2 or in the paddock by her winning smile, Alexis Fenton is making an impression. Meanwhile, her parents have forgiven her. They were at the track for our first race, says Alexis Fenton, and they were impressed by my performance."

Sebastian Vettel , Formula BMW ADAC Championship (Germany).

Anyone who meets Sebastian Vettel going about his day-to-day life would be forgiven for assuming he's just an ordinary 17-year-old high school student. Vettel sports the same hairstyle as many of his classmates, wears a brace on his teeth, and gets grades that aren't exceptionally good or bad.

"I'm just an ordinary guy," says Vettel. Only his closest friends know much about his other life as a racing driver. "When I was a small kid I took a trophy to school with me. The others broke it," recalls the 1.74-metre-tall Formula BMW driver. "Since then I only talk about my sport if I'm asked."

But there's no trace of such reserve when Vettel is out on the circuit. So far he has won eight out of ten races in Germany's Formula BMW ADAC Championship, finishing second and third in the other two events. The commanding style with which he drives to victory is reminiscent of his idol Michael Schumacher. But Vettel rejects any comparisons with the six-times Formula One World Champion: "Michael and I are worlds apart," says the young man from the state of Hesse. "For me it would be a dream to be able to compete in Formula 3 in 2005."

So far his career has been highly promising. At the age of thirteen, Sebastian was carving around his parents' back yard in a go-kart, frequently missing out on lunch. At seven he entered his first race and in 2001 he won the European Junior Kart Championship. Two years later he moved into the Formula BMW ADAC Championship, where he immediately finished as runner-up in the overall rankings. This year he wants to win the championship.

Beyond the race track, Vettel is not short of ambition either. His next plan is to run a marathon. He has already covered half the distance in just one and a half hours. Tipping the scales at just under 58 kilos, he has the ideal build for an endurance athlete, and his body does nothing to give away his secret passion - Vettel has a sweet tooth.

Tim Bridgman , Formula BMW UK Championship.

When Tim Bridgman wakes up on Sunday mornings the first thing he claps eyes on is his car, which is parked under an awning next to the mobile home in which the 19- year-old Englishman and his three team-members spend race weekends. "Sometimes it gets a bit cramped in here," says Bridgman. But as the only privateer driver in Formula BMW UK, he can't afford to stay at a hotel. If I were to buy my way into a racing team, I'd have to pay almost twice of what I'm paying now", estimates Bridgman.

The junior driver from Dunmow in Sussex has just one sponsor so far, which is why he has to scrimp and save. Apart from his stepfather Martin, there are just two mechanics to attend to the car, which means Bridgman himself occasionally has to get his hands on either adjusting the suspension of his 140 bhp FB2 or cleaning the car, or even cooking for his crew. It's great fun because I'm constantly learning new things," says Bridgman of his role as racing driver and dogsbody.

On the race track there's nothing to suggest any lack of funds. Following tenout of 20 rounds, he currently occupies second place in the Formula BMW UK Championship rankings and already has two race wins under his belt. We're ploughing every last penny into our car ," explains Bridgman.

Well, almost. He recently invested £ 2,000 to take part in BMW's Education & Coaching programme. Having already sat in the cockpit of aFormula car prior to the season, he was ineligible for a scholarship. But Bridgman believes the £ 2,000 are well spent: You can't get this sort of training anywhere else.

Next year will probably find him pitting his skills in Formula 3. Bridgman is confident he'll acquit himself well there too, because Formula BMW UK is the best schooling for the more advanced race series". Besides, he's already proved you can go places with a limited budget.

Han Han , Formula BMW Asia.

His fans hail him as a hero, his critics accuse him of loutishness. Since Han Han turned his back on school four years ago to write an acerbic book on China's education system, he has divided public opinion. A mere 21 years young, his five publications so far have posted sales of more than four million - and triggered a nationwide debate.

An American newspaper has compared heartthrob Han Han with James Dean. He doesn't see himself as a rebel but as a racing driver. "When I was seven, I already dreamt of driving fast cars," recalls the author. Now that dream has come true courtesy of Formula BMW Asia, where Han Han made his debut in April 2004 as a driver for the Korean E-Rain Team. His main objective: "In 2005 or 2006 I want win the championship."

To fulfil this wish he has even taken a creative break from writing. "To succeed, I have to give racing my full attention," says Han Han, who wants to learn as much as he can in 2004. "I've got a lot of catching up to do when it comes to braking," says Han Han, who finished sixth in the 2003 China Rally Championship.

As one of five Formula BMW Asia juniors, Han Han is able to enjoy all the benefits of BMW's Education & Coaching programme. Apart from courses in driving technique and strategy, the curriculum for the scholarship candidates also includes vehicle dynamics and chassis set-up, fitness training and nutrition, media training and public relations, as well as sponsorship and sports management.

Han Han is looking forward to his home race with keen anticipation. Beijing (13th- 15th August) is his home town, Shanghai (24th-26th October) is his birthplace. "I have a lot of friends in both places," says the young racing driver. "It will be a great chance to show what I can do."

-fbmw-

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Series Formula BMW
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Skip Barber , Sebastian Vettel , Mario Theissen , Han Han