The 2004 Formula BMW Asia Series kicked off on Saturday with the first of two races at the brand new Bahrain International Circuit. Seventeen drivers contested the first event, representing 11 different countries within the Asian region.
Hong Kong driver Marchy Lee driving for Team Meritus makes his mark in the opening rounds of the Formula BMW Asia Championship series with a double win. He may have the headstart in the series, but all eyes are set on Team Minardi Asia's Tyson Sy from the Philippines who ran a remarkable second round after having an early mishap in the first round when his undertray caught fire in the early part of round one due to an oil leak.
In the first round, Hong Kong's Marchy Lee scored a dominant victory after overcoming an early challenge from Taipei's Hanss Lin, which saw the pair battling hard for the lead in the opening laps. Second place went to Korean Kyong-Ouk You, while Lin eventually had to settle for third. The three drivers received their trophies from BMW WilliamsF1 Team driver Ralf Schumacher and BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen.
"We have witnessed an interesting start of the 2004 Formula BMW Asia Series
today," said Theissen. "I think we can look forward to an exciting season and we are keen to see how it develops."
You had a relatively lonely race to second in the BMW Korea E-Rain car, while Lin had to work hard and re-pass Dado Pena and Mehdi Bennani to claim third. After making a bad start Moreno Soeprapto climbed to fourth, ahead of Bennani and Pena. The latter survived a spin.
There was plenty of action down the field. Tyson Sy was an early casualty after his car trailed fire from its undertray on the opening lap, while Hamed Al Fardan had to stop on the last lap after also suffering a fire.
Marchy Lee won the second round of the 2004 Formula BMW Asia Series at Sakhir, a day after he triumphed in the first race of the year. The double success gives the Hong Kong driver a commanding points lead, and marks him as a favorite to win this year's title."I feel very, very happy, and the race was quite good," said a delighted Lee after an exciting race. "It's been a perfect weekend. It was raining a little bit at the beginning of the race. The set-up of the car was quite hard in the front, so it was quite difficult to turn in at a couple of corners. I had to calm down and drive safely and not make any mistakes. Also the wind was quite disturbing. Tyson did a very good race. I hope I can do this again in Sepang for the next round."
Moreno Soeprapto started the race from pole, but the Indonesian struggled to find traction off the line. His Minardi Team Asia team mate Tyson Sy led into the first corner, but from fourth on the grid Marchy Lee got away well. As the field scrabbled around the first corners the Team Meritus driver moved up to second and took the lead from Sy at Turn 3.
The first few laps saw frantic action as the cars in the leading group slid around and frequently swapped places. Hanss Lin got away well from sixth place, and passed Lee for the lead on lap 3 at the last corner. Marchy was put off line and briefly dropped to fourth. However, Lin overdid it and spun at the next corner.
Lee was soon back in the lead. Sy then passed him at Turn 3 on lap 7, and the two cars made brief contact. However, Lee regained top spot on the next lap. Despite strong pressure from Sy he stayed ahead to the flag. Kyong-Ouk You of Korea was a third, having run as high as second at one point.
Sy was very pleased to finished second, having retired early in the first race when an oil leak caused a spectacular fire.
"It was a really exciting race," said Sy. "Yesterday I had a problem with my car, and I did only one lap. The mechanics did a very good job on the car, and today I got second. It was really fun to fight for first place with Marchy Lee."
You was satisfied with a second podium finish for BMW Korea E-Rain.
"I was trying to push very hard through the race," he said, "but it was really tough. The other two are really good, but next time I hope I can win!"
There was a lot of action behind the top three. Dado Pena finished fourth for Minardi Team Asia, despite an off-track moment. Mehdi Bennani took fifth for Belgravia Motorsport, while the top six was completed by Lin, who recovered well after his spin. Pole man Soeprapto retired on the sixth lap.
The podium prizes were presented by BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen, who said he enjoyed the race immensely.
"The second race was a big step forward compared to the first one," he noted. "You can see the progress these guys are making from race to race. This race was really close up to the last corner, and I think we're looking forward to a really exciting season."
The Formula BMW Asia Series is run over 14 rounds at seven venues in Bahrain, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, China and Japan. It will culminate in a second Grand Prix support race at Shanghai in September. Seventeen drivers contested the first event, representing 11 different countries within Asia.