Team Meritus Indonesian Driver Meckel Ali cruised to comfortable wins in Round 3 & 4 of the Asian Formula 2000 Championship at the Johor Circuit in Johor Bahru, Malaysia last Sunday.
Ali's dominant showing promoted him to top of the overall championship standings while lone Filipino entry Mike Potenciano took respectable 4th place finishes in both races and kept his 2nd place standing after 4 rounds. His efforts to put the Philippines on top are supported by the world's largest mobile services provider-zed, lubricants specialist-Gulf Oil, youth & sporty clothing apparel maker-Dickies, BLTBCO and MP TURBO.
"It's been a brilliant weekend and I have to thank the team and the mechanics for setting up the car well," said the 22-year old Meckel. "As you know, Johor is not the easiest circuit in terms of driving around it and in setting up the car. We had a solid package this weekend and I'm hoping that it will follow through to the remaining rounds of the championship."
A well-deserved 2nd place went to the only woman driver in the championship, Japan's Keiko Ihara, who is a scholar of Japan's racing program. In only her first time on the track, she qualified 2nd in both races and finished in the same position, however, she could have given Meckel problems if not for some rough tactics by the winner.
"There were some bad driving manners out there," claimed Keiko after the races. "In the first race, Ali dove in the inside of turn 5 and there was definitely no space for two cars. I had to move out or we would not have finished the race. In the second race, Ali had a bad start and when I came alongside, he pushed me out onto the grass. I lost my momentum fell back. Not so gentleman-like." Fortunately, she finished round 4 just before her engine expired after crossing the finish line.
Third places went to Tohru Jitsukawa of Japan in round 3 and Nick Thomas of Hong Kong in round 4. Another victim of rough driving was Potenciano, who lost a possible third place in the last race, but nevertheless was pleased with his finish.
"We had a good 4-way battle for 3rd place in the last race," said zed-MP Turbo Team Philippines driver Potenciano. "The Malaysian Zarith Alfian had a mechanical defect and dropped out early. Tohru was leading our pack and his car started to get loose. He blocked Nick twice but managed to get through. When I came up behind, he almost ran me to the wall in the main straight and had to brake hard to avoid a big accident."
"I had another go after 2 laps and managed to take him before turn two but he was going to collide with me in turn 3 since he missed his braking point. I had to drive into the gravel and he got through. It took me 4 laps, the last lap of the race, to get another run in turn 5 and I said to myself, 'It's now or never,' and went through a small gap he left open. I guess this will be the norm in the coming races because everyone wants to win the championship," explained Mike.
"The track is great and I love it! It's really a driver's track with a lot of corners that demand 10/10ths concentration and driving skill. The flat out 5th gear, 240 kph turn 2 corner, the downhill 5th gear 200 kph turn 6 and the off camber, S-turn turn 9 & 10, like USA's Laguna Seca's Corkscrew, are fantastic corners! Unluckily, we don't have them in the Philippines and I had to learn how to drive on them in the short time available. The most important thing is we got enough points to keep our 2nd place standings in the championship and that is what counts."
Singapore's Denis Lian, winner of both inaugural rounds in Subic and top qualifier in round 3, had transmission problems and did not finish in both rounds. He dropped to 5th place in the standings with Jitsakawa in 3rd place, Thomas 4th and lady driver Ihara in 6th. The races will be shown in Star Sports June 2, 2002.