ATCC: Bira: Rounds nine and ten preview

Three-way tussle in Thailand. With nothing more than a slim and negligible point difference separating the top three contenders in the Asian Formula 2000 Series, rounds 9 and 10 at Pattaya's Bira International Circuit this weekend have all ...

Three-way tussle in Thailand.

With nothing more than a slim and negligible point difference separating the top three contenders in the Asian Formula 2000 Series, rounds 9 and 10 at Pattaya's Bira International Circuit this weekend have all the ingredients of a three-way tussle in Thailand.

Current series leader Meckel Ali remains the hot favourite, but he will have Filipino Mike Potenciano and Singaporean Dennis Lian hot on his heels.

The Indonesian could have easily established a solid buffer between him and his nearest contender for the title last month if not for a broken tie rod in round 7 that allowed Potenciano to inherit the victory and restore his title hopes. Ali returned to win in round 8 with Potenciano claiming second just ahead of a charging Lian who had promoted himself back into the title chase with a second and third place finish in Bira.

"I've never thought of racing for the title," said Indonesian Ali who up until that mechanical failure, has been the most consistent of the three drivers so far this season.

"I approach every race with the objective of driving as hard as I can to win it. With the outcome of only one race capable of swinging an advantage to either corner of the three drivers, it's best to remain focused for every race."

Backed by a new engine that played a pivotal role in his first ever victory of the season, Potenciano meanwhile, is hungry for more success.

"I intend to do well this weekend but make no mistake, the competition will be even stiffer with three drivers in the title chase."

For Lian on the other hand, his performance this weekend will greatly depend on his fighting spirit nursing an aged power plant and whether or not he will be driving with a new engine this weekend.

Commented Lian: "A new engine will definitely give my championship campaign the new lease of life it needs now."

Also looking to repeat an encouraging performance will be Team PanGlobal EZI Malaysia's Zarith Alfian Zainal who raced to his first podium finish of the season last month with a third place in round 7 and a commendable fourth overall in round 8.

Making only his second appearance abroad with the series, Zarith was optimistic of a repeat strong performance this weekend.

"The car I'm driving is no way near the top three drivers in relation to engine power and the lack of funds makes it impossibly difficult to arrive with a more competitive package this weekend.

"But I like Bira because it's tight, twisty and fast, in short, a real driver's circuit despite its short length which brings the racing a lot closer together. The weather can also play a pivotal role in deciding the race outcome and I'm counting on all these elements to play to my advantage again," said Zarith whose performance in the last two rounds was equivalent to driving with one hand tied behind his back with budget permitting the purchase of only one set of tyres for two races.

Also returning to the series after a two-race absence will be Japanese sensation and only female driver on the grid Keiko Ihara.

Although a consistent front runner in the series so far, Ihara's weekend is expected to be more pre-occupied trying to learn her way around Bira.

"I have to learn the circuit quickly. What makes things difficult is that the other leading drivers already have a two-race advantage around Bira."

-af2000/pl-

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Series General
Drivers Keiko Ihara