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Thailand Preview - halftime for Formula Asia 2.0

FORMULA ASIA 2.0
2008-08-12

After a well-needed break, Formula Asia 2.0 gets back up to speed this weekend (15th-17th of August) as the races at Thailand's Bira Circuit signals the start of the second half of the season. The new Championship, which has established itself as Asia's biggest series for one-make category Formula Renault, has proved very popular amongst fans and sponsors alike, and the future looks bright for the participating teams and drivers. As the fight for the titles draws ever closer, www.felixracing.se summarizes the season to date and rates the most noticeable challengers for the grand prize. Of course, we have also taken a closer look at just who is hot - and who is not - heading into the final races of 2008...   

As always, the Asian Formula Renault season began with a number of tough but important pre-season tests, staged at the Shanghai Formula 1 circuit. Felix Rosenqvist flew out to the Chinese arena on two occasions during the winter, and early tests indicated that he and Swedish friend Fredrik Blomstedt were going to play leading roles in this year's Championship. At the beginning, the tests were dominated by mystic tyre issues that arose after Felix's team March3 Racing had decided to leave Kumho-sponsored series the Asian Formula Renault Challenge and join the all-new, Michelin-shod Formula Asia 2.0 installation; adjusting to the new tyre manufacturer took some time, but all problems had been solved by the last test and all teams (most competitors had chosen the same way as March3 Racing, leaving the Asian Formula Renault Challenge to the benefit of Formula Asia 2.0) were ready for the curtain-raiser - two races at Shanghai which would not count towards the Championship.

It started off well for Felix Rosenqvist. The Swede won both races in treacherous, rainy conditions, and was dubbed favourite to win the 2008 Driver's Title by the Asian press. Unfortunately, Blomstedt decided to abandon his Asian career and race in England, which meant that Felix - for the first time - would be the only Swedish driver on the grid as the "real" season began at Sepang, Malaysia, in the middle of May. The heat was as intense as always and there were still some questions about how the tires would survive the high temperatures. The apprehension soon proved to be unnecessary, however, and the weekend in Malaysia developed into a straight battle between Felix and Mathias Beche (Switzerland, Champ Motorsport), who had followed the example set by all other top drivers and joined Formula Asia 2.0. In qualifying for the first race, 16 year-old Swede Rosenqvist lapped a full seven tenths quicker than Beche to secure the first Pole Position of the year. The race was a different story, though, as Beche showed impressive speed to win half a second in front of Felix, who struggled with understeer from start to finish. Behind them, Felix's March3 Racing team-mate Benjamin Rouget of France claimed third.

The rules state that the starting order for the weekend's second race is decided by the result in the first, giving Pole Position to Beche with Felix Rosenqvist in second spot on the grid. Both combatants made good starts and left the rest of the field behind them after just half a lap, and as they drove onto the long straight on the back of the circuit, Felix - now without understeering issues - saw his chance: he slipstreamed passed Beche, and out-braked him going into the tight final corner. His win was never at risk thereafter, and "Oseqist", as he was called by the Malaysian speaker, won six seconds clear of Beche with Yuki Iwasaki in a strong third.

The first-ever weekend of Formula Asia 2.0 racing wasn't over yet, though. Because of schematic matters, a third race had been planned for Sunday - this time at Sepang's shorter "North Circuit" configuration. An entirely new qualifying session (Race 2 results were not relevant for starting position since the extra race was seen as a single event) was called, and Felix did one of his best one-lap efforts ever to secure Pole Position by almost eight tenths of a second on a track only 2.8 kilometres in length... It was fantastic, and something that doesn't happen every day. A perfect lap.

The race itself was won, too, by Felix, who left Sepang at the top of the Championship standings just ahead of Beche - who had impressed many and looked set to be the biggest threat for the remainder of the season. There were other highlights during the weekend - American Ryan Booth and Thai star Robert Boughey, for example - but the Championship fight stood between two drivers; and they were both well aware of that.

The second meeting of the year again took place at Sepang International Circuit, a fact welcomed by Felix who has always enjoyed racing there. The teams and drivers had been recharging their batteries at home (Felix took part in classic Swedish karting event "Klippan Cup" to keep race fit between the races), and as the engines brought life back to the Malaysian paddock, a lot of excitement was in the air. This time, there would be no races on the full-length circuit and the shorter one was sure to keep the field more compact during qualifying. However, many felt it would also increase the risk of accidents while lapping backmarkers in the races. The first race saw Felix claim a hat-trick of Pole Position, the race win and fastest lap as he finished 13,5 seconds in front of Iwasaki to extend his Championship lead. A surprising third for Zhu Dai Wei, March3 Racing, gave a clear impression that the Chinese driver was getting better and better and that his former Formula BMW experience was beginning to pay off. Benjamin Rouget, who was tipped to be one of the main Championship contenders at the start of the year, was hit by problems and ended up last.

Race 2 - the last to be run before the up-coming event in Thailand this weekend - looked pretty much the same as Race 1 had done. Felix Rosenqvist was in undisputable form and scored another hat-trick, this time with a victory margin of over 16 seconds. Dai Wei continued to impress in second, while Yoshitaka Kuroda finished third to give established outfit Asia Racing Team their first podium of the year. Heading into the battle at Bira Circuit in just a few days' time, some new names have been added to the driver line-up and Formula Asia 2.0 continues to grow day-by-day. Four race weekends remain - three in China and one, of course, in Thailand - and much can still be won or lost in the hunt for success. Felix Racing expect tough competition and are looking forward to the challenges ahead, which include a completely new circuit in Chengdu (visited by the series on the 12th-14th of September). The Shanghai finale in late November is certain to attract a lot of spectators, and the pace will be fierce as the titles are won or lost. The end of the 2008 Formula Asia 2.0 season is going to be dramatic, to say the least...


THEY FIGHT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Felix Rosenqvist, 16, Sweden
Team: March3 Racing
Championship position ahead of Thailand: 1st
Felix Rosenqvist 
Felix leads the Championship and has become stronger and better with each race. Won the latest event at Sepang and goes to Thailand following a motivational visit to the Hungarian Formula 1 Grand Prix. Has got a 27 point-lead over Mathias Beche and is practically unable to lose his advantage until Shanghai. There is a slight question mark regarding the circuits in Thailand and Chengdu; Felix has never driven there as opposed to some of his competitors. Is in good form and learns new circuits quickly, enabling him to potentially fight for victory anywhere. Enormously stable.


Mathias Beche, 22, Switzerland

Team: Champ Motorsport
Championship position ahead of Thailand: 2nd
Mathias Beche 
Beche got his season off to a flying start by winning the first race, but has found himself struggling as others have developed better set-up solutions. Still the most obvious threat to Felix Rosenqvist in the Championship thanks to his speed, even though his performances could be more even. The Swiss driver is renowned for finding the limits of the car quickly and normally makes great starts. His form has been heading downwards over the last couple of races, but Beche is a fighter and won't give up easily.


Yuki Iwasaki, 21, Japan
Team: DynaTen Motorsport
Championship positon ahead of Thailand: 3rd
Yuki Iwasaki 
Iwasaki. The name brings the same sort of respect in Asian Formula Renault as Takuma Sato's used to do in Formula 1. Yuki Iwasaki is the type of driver who can be blisteringly quick on his day, yet emphatically distanced on another. Much has been made of DynaTen Motorsport lacking the experience to match the real top teams and drivers, but Iwasaki's form is on the up - and he can qualify well on each of the remaining circuits.



Zhu Dai Wei, 18, China
Team: March3 Racing
Championship position ahead of Thailand: 4th
Zhu Dai Wei 
A long-shot for the title, Dai Wei nonetheless performed two great drives at the last races in Malaysia to establish himself as March3 Racings second-fastest driver at the moment. Goes from strength to strength and works in silence to extract maximum performance from himself and the car. Probably won't be able to catch up with the ultimate leaders in the standings due to a major points deficit, but a top three finish will not be impossible. Has got comparatively much experience, and the last two race weekends will take place at his home circuit in Shanghai. Stable, secure - but is he fast enough?

 

Felix is congratulated by his team after winning at Sepang 
 
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