Brent Co / Brent Co, Benj Ngo | December 11, 2002 14:00
Asian Formula 2000, Asian Touring Car open 2002 season in Subic
It was again the time of the year for Asia's biggest motorsports event as the new Subic International Raceway hosts the 2002 Asian Festival of Speed. The race weekend kicks off the Asian Formula 2000 series and the Asian Touring Car Series. Hong Kong's Mike Miller, Singapore's Denis Lian (runner-up from 2001), Indonesian Meckel Ali, and local bet Mike Potenciano of Team Zed MP Turbo were among the series favorites for the Asian Formula 2000. While ATCS veteran Danny Stacey Chau from Hong Kong, Finnish Toni Ruokonen and Georges Ramirez were among the favorites for the ATCS.
Singaporean Denis Lian of SMR Racing took the win in the incident packed first round of the Asia Formula 2000. Pole-sitter Mike Miller from Hong Kong "tried too hard to defend" on the opening lap and spun. "I was a bit over-excited by starting at the front, I think, I need to calm it down a bit," confessed the 44 year old airline pilot after the race. "I was not surprised to win," said Lian. "Mike was very fast in qualifying, but I put him under pressure at the start and it worked."
To the delight of local racing fans, lone Philippine bet Mike Potenciano of ZED/Gulf Oil/MP Turbo finished second - close behind Lian. "The local support really helps," said the Filipino driver, "we've got sponsorship now for the rest of the season from Gulf Oil and ZED."
Much to his delight of having an incident-free race, Tohru Jitsukawa of Forward Racing took the final podium position. Hong Kong's Nick Thomas came in fourth followed by a recovering Mike Miller.
As the green light turned on, Denis Lian once again took the lead in Round 2 building himself a comfortable lead over Ali, Potenciano and Miller. It was a troublesome round for Mike Miller as he struggled in the middle of the field. But his troubles weren't over, as midway through the race he suddenly veered from the racing line and crashed into the tire barriers just after the bus-stop chicane turns 4 and 5. Potenciano was running infront of Miller at that moment. "I momentarily lost control and hit some tire barriers, next thing I knew, the driver behind me crashed. He must have been hit by debris from the tire barriers," said Potenciano about the accident.
The race was immediately stopped after the accident. Hong Kong's Mike Miller was rushed to a hospital in Manila for further treatment. The race was declared ended. Race leader Denis Lian was awarded the win. Indonesia's Meckel Ali and Filipino Mike Potenciano completed the top three. Due to a stopped race, half points were awarded to the top finishers.
Denis Lian's back-to-back first place finishes gives him a good head start in the point standings for the championship series. Mike Potenciano on the other hand is poised to make a good performance for the series with his "excellent start".
Toni Ruokonen of WK Longman Racing dominated the first round of the 2002 Asian Touring Car Series in a Peugeot 306, ahead of local driver George Ramirez. After a relatively poor start from the dusty 'off-line' side of the track the Finn was "happy to get a comfortable lead" over Ramirez's Honda.
Both drivers were happy with the performance of their Michelin tires on the newly renovated Subic International Raceway. "Of course they performed best in the first few laps," said Ramirez. "I was pleased that Toni slowed down because I couldn't match his pace." Clearly Roukonen's Peugeot overpowered Ramirez's Integra Type-R. But Ramirez was glad to have a podium finish for the Philippines.
In Division 3, for cars with less powerful engines, Hong Kong driver Danny Stacy Chau used strategy to overcome his rivals: "In qualifying I did just the minimum three laps so that my tires would be in peak condition," explained 55 year old Chau after the race.
Race Favorite for Division 3 before the race was Macau's Ao Chi Hong. He just couldn't match the wits and skill of the veteran Chau. After a brief set of mistakes, he was relegated to third by Japanese lady driver Kanami Takeda. A stunt-driver and television commentator by profession, Takeda found the Subic circuit "slippery but fun."
It was Ruokonen again who would win Round 2 as he completed a clean sweep of the 2002 Asian Touring Car Series' opening rounds in his Peugeot 306. With over ten years experience and previous championship victories in the UK and Finland, the 28 year old Finn was always the favorite. "I almost got it wrong on the first lap when I put a wheel on the dirt," he confessed after the race.
Ruokonen know looks forward to last year's champion returning to the series at the next round: "I've heard that Nattavude is really quick." Defending champion Nattavude was not able to race in Subic due to "budget problems".
Local entrant George Ramirez was not able to make a performance for the second round due to technical problems which occurred during the end of the first round. Finishing Second and third were the brothers Lo, elder brother Ka Fai beating Ka Chun. After the race Ka Chun said, "I hope to get close to him next time, but he has too much experience for me to beat him at the moment!"
The Lo brothers' father, Lo Hung Pui, took Division 3 honors ahead of compatriot Danny Stacy Chau and Macau's Ao Chi Hong. Chau led from the start but spun when his car jumped out of gear. "It happened again near the end of the race and I nearly lost second place too."