Subic International Raceway, Philippines Hong Kong drivers fly the flag in Asia's tougest racing series. The SAR will be well represented this weekend for the start of the region's most closely fought and professionally run motor racing series...
Subic International Raceway, Philippines
Hong Kong drivers fly the flag in Asia's tougest racing series.
The SAR will be well represented this weekend for the start of the region's most closely fought and professionally run motor racing series - the Asian Festival of Speed (AFOS). Under the umbrella of AFOS are two of Asia's most avidly followed motorsport events: The Asian Touring Car Series (ATCS), the most respected touring car series in Asia; and AF2000 series, the proven breeding ground for future F1 stars. These are the only International series in Asia which are sanctioned by the sport's world governing body, the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA).
This year AFOS will be held on eight different race tracks in five countries, with the first rounds held at Subic International Raceway in the Philippines on April 13 and 14. The series, which is broadcast to over 300 million viewers and can be followed by Hong Kong fans on TVB and ESPN Star, now has a huge following throughout the region.
The stakes have been raised significantly in recent years in the hotly-contested ATCS, and the welcome switch from the costly Super Touring machines to Super Production rules has put it within reach of a wider group.
This year, WK Longman team boss Edwin Tso will again enter a pair of factory Peugeot 306s, one of which will be piloted by defending Division 1 Champion C. Nattavude of Thailand. In the second Peugeot will be the series' very own flying Finn, 2000 British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) Class B winner, Toni Ruokonen. Last year, Ruokonen competed in the Production Class of the BTCC in a Mitsubishi, and brings a wealth of international competition to the ATCS. In addition, WK Longman are currently preparing a brand new factory Peugeot 307 in the UK which is expected to make its Asian debut by mid-season.
From Hong Kong, seasoned campaigner Lo Hung Pui is joined by sons Lo Ka Chun and Lo Ka Fai. All three Lo family members are long-time ATCS drivers, and have competed in support races at Asia's most prestigious event, the Macau Grand Prix. They are joined by one of the SAR's most well known touring car veterans, Danny Stacy Chau, as well as Liu Lic Ka and Ao Chi Hong of Macau.
Commented Danny Stacy Chau, "It is interesting that, despite not having its own racing circuit, Hong Kong continues to produce a wealth of talented, highly competitive racing drivers. ATCS offers all drivers an opportunity to compete against leading touring car specialists from around the region in a professional, safe and fair racing series".
The AF2000 series is the premier single seater series in Asia [coz F/Nippon & F/Brabham], and has produced such international stars as Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong, and Indian racing sensation Narain Karthikeyan. Last year's AF2000 Champion, 17-year-old Karun Chandok of India, has landed a drive with the crack Carlin Motorsport team in the British Formula 3 Championship this year. The British series has been the final step into F1 for the likes of 2001 Macau Grand Prix winner Takuma Sato (who also competed in AF2000), David Coulthard, and Mika Hakkinen.
Commented AFOS Managing Director, David Sonenscher, a former successful racing driver and team manager, "AF2000 offers an ideal training ground for drivers looking to pursue a racing career in single seaters. The cars are robust, reliable and cost effective, and all have identical specifications and performance. This ensures that no one driver or team has a technological advantage, and provides a level playing field where the skill and talent of the driver is paramount."
The AF2000 machines are powered by four-cylinder 2.0 litre Ford Zetec engines, producing a hefty 175 horsepower and reaching speeds of up to 254kph on the straights. This, coupled with very low gross weight - only 575kg including the driver - provides powerful acceleration.
Continued Sonenscher, "It is vital for any driver to have the right machine in which to learn his craft and become competitive. If the car is too powerful, a driver's confidence, as well as his safety, can easily be jeopardised and he won't progress or learn anything. Likewise, if a car is too slow or suffers from unreliability, a driver can easily become disheartened at not reaching his goals. The AF2000 provides optimum performance in speed, handling and reliability."
The entry list for the first two rounds of the series include three drivers from Hong Kong, as well as competitors from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.
AFOS provides a full support system for drivers, teams and sponsors. Race officials, from the Clerk of the Course to international scrutineers, are all highly experienced and professional. Continued Sonenscher, "AFOS is not an Asian racing series. It is an international series run in Asia, and we have adopted the highest standards of safety and organisation from Europe which have been developed there over many years. We provide a platform for talented drivers to develop in a professional environment, as well as giving fans some of the best racing action to be found anywhere."