The inaugural Formula BMW Asia Series roared off the grid this afternoon, with Meritus Racing's Ho-Pin Tung of China taking victory in an incident-filled race.

Tung was dominant throughout, leading the 10-lap race from pole to chequered flag. He opened up a massive lead by the final lap, taking the first victory in this exciting new series 15.704 seconds ahead of second placed man, Nattapong Horthongkum of Thailand.

"I'm extremely happy and pleased to have won the first race of the season and hope this is a start of many more to come," said the delighted 20-year-old.

Another pre-race favourite, Hanse Lin of Chinese Taipei, finished 3rd after battling hard with Nattapong. The pair exchanged positions from the start of the race with the Thai taking a firm grip on 2nd place from lap five onwards.

The opening race of the season got off to an exciting start, with numerous incidents in the early stages as the pack challenged the hard-charging Tung.

Indian move star Ajit Kumar spun out after losing control at turn 11, ending his race on the first lap. Malaysian James Veerapan's race also came to an abrupt end on the first lap after he made contact with Japanese lady driver Keiko Ihara at turn 14. Despite the incident, Ihara managed to finish the race in 6th place.

The second India Racing Team driver, Rajvirdhan Vijayakumar, was also unlucky when his front wing dislodged, slipping under his car and ending his race mid way. Japanese driver Ryo Nakano was not spared either when he spun out trying to avoid another car braking early ahead of him.

BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen was delighted at the success of the opening round of the Formula BMW Asia Series, commenting, "We are really pleased that we have managed to bring our talent support programme to Asia."

"The Formula BMW car is a high tech single seater which sets a new benchmark in the classes for up-and-coming drivers. Safety was the first priority during the car's development in Munich. In Asia the interest in motor sports is growing tremendously. In order to bring more Asian drivers in to top level motor racing, a solid education programme is needed and we are happy to support this with our concept and technology. With the impressive backdrop of Formula One, I think it is refreshing for the spectators to watch the youngsters, 15 years old and above, in their very first Formula race"" said Dr Theissen.

The Formula BMW Asia action continues tomorrow (Sunday), with the second round of the series again run over 10 laps of the Sepang International Circuit.

Among the talented field of Asian drivers are the Formula BMW Scholarship winners. The Scholarship programme was designed by BMW Motorsport to provide year-long training plus a US$35,000 financial contribution to the season's budget.

The new Formula BMW, launched in 2002, sets new benchmarks in terms of safety technology and equality of performance. Formula One technology has been incorporated in many areas of the car, with particular focus on safety, such as the FORS (Formula Rescue Seat) developed by BMW. The car tips the scales dry (empty) at 455 kilograms. A 140 bhp BMW four-cylinder engine, based on the famous motorcycle unit, propels the car to speeds of up to 230km/h (143mph).

The Formula BMW Asia Series is part of the Asian Festival of Speed (AFOS) organised by Malaysian-based Motorsport Asia Limited, which also includes the Asian Touring Car Series, the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and the Asian Formula 3 Series. In addition to Malaysia, AFOS will visit Thailand, Korea, Japan and China throughout the season.