Potenciano takes pole, Coulthard wins Sepang AF2000

Potenciano takes pole, Coulthard wins Sepang AF2000 image

Text: / Photos: | posted July 23, 2002 00:00

KUALA LUMPUR - The newest formula driver sensation of New Zealand and cousin of a Formula One driver, Fabian Coulthard, dominated in dramatic fashion last Sunday's Asian Formula 2000 Series in the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia.

Coulthard won rounds five and six, which turned the tables on qualifying hopefuls led by ZED-SAN MIGUEL BEER-MP TURBO Team Philippines Mike Potenciano, who took a spectacular pole position in his last qualifying lap in a wet track for round five. Mike again belted out a great third place in the dry, second qualifying session, even though he had traffic in front of his best lap.

"After a superb qualifying session, we expected to be there on the podium for this event. However, our engine developed a problem and progressively got worse during the day. It was a frustrating day for the whole team," Potenciano said dejectedly after finishing a lowly 7th and 9th in rounds five and six, respectively.

Coulthard, starting from 4th place, romped home unchallenged in the morning race as the rest of the field couldn't match the speed of the leader. AF2000 Series leader Indonesia's Meckel Ali came in second and Singapore's Dennis Lian in third but both gave up chasing the Kiwi and concentrated on their own race. The pace set by Fabian was so grueling that he was nearer his qualifying times in a track that was dry and in ideal conditions.

The toast of the town though was Japanese lady driver and previous Benetton F1 image model, Keiko Ihara. She spun in the first lap of round five, giving chase to the top three, but made amends in the final race by taking 2nd place overall with less than a second away from Coulthard.

"I am disappointed," replied Keiko after the race. "I came here to win but I just couldn't get the result I wanted. I was hoping to get the best results to convince the sponsors back home who didn't have the confidence to invest in a female formula driver. They told me to drive a touring car instead and I want to prove them wrong." Ali finished in third place and stretched his points lead in the series.

Potenciano's problems started after the dominating the final practice session on Friday, when the engine's cam belt spun and bent all of its exhaust valves. A new cylinder head was swapped onto the old block and performed well in qualifying but slowly lost power. Soon the engine wouldn't climb to its 7200 rpm rev limit and in the final race, could only climb to 6400 in the end.

"We thought that the bottom-end of the engine was not damaged. The team changed all auxiliaries before the next race but we weren't able to improve it. We made the wrong decision to just change the head. We'll change the engine and try again in the next race," explained San Pablo City's Mike.

The lone Filipino entry's racing efforts were supported by the world's largest mobile services provider ZED, internationally acclaimed SAN MIGUEL BEER, lubricants specialist GULF OIL, Sonencher Motor Racing Team, BLTBCO and MP TURBO.

"We have at least proven to the AF2000 community that we are capable of getting pole position. We hope our luck will change and we'll be up there for the team and country. Our day will come and we'll never give up," added Potenciano.