The sixth season of open-wheel racing’s most complete driver development series officially got underway Monday and Tuesday as the Formula BMW Americas Championship conducted its first official test at Florida’s Palm Beach International Raceway.
The growing roster of drivers and teams from North, Central and South America that will compete in the 2009 Formula BMW Americas Championship came out for two days of spirited testing on the 2.038-mile PBIR road course. The driver lineup featured a good mix of returning competitors and rookie drivers making their first steps into Formula BMW Americas competition, and the time sheets showed that the mix of drivers should make for a strong racing season.
Returning driver Gaby Chaves (EuroInternational) set the fastest time of the final day with a best lap of 1:16.232, while his teammate Michael Lewis was second-quickest, and fastest in the morning session, in what was his first-ever outing in the Formula BMW FB02.
“I think the car is quite well built. It’s stiff, it has a lot to it and it really gives the driver a lot to do,” Lewis said. “You can feel the way the changes affect the car, the chassis package is well-balanced, I really like driving the car.”
Chaves led a Tuesday afternoon sweep of the top-four spots by the EuroInternational team, although Autotecnica and 2008’s Rookie Champion Gianmarco Raimondo was in the top-three during Monday’s outing as well as Tuesday’s morning runs.
“Last year’s experience in Formula BMW Americas definitely helped us here this week,” said Raimondo. “It only took us a couple of laps to get up to speed and back into what the car can do, which gives you more time to work on changes and car balance if you don’t have to spend that time learning the car.”
Chaves, who competed part-time last year before joining EuroInternational for 2009, agreed with Raimondo on the benefits of experience.
“Even though the car is a little different, being with a new team, the experience gained last year, really helped me get up to speed,” Chaves explained. “It was exciting to get out here and I am looking forward to the next test in Carolina.”
Next up for the Formula BMW Americas Championship is the Introductory Test at Carolina Motorsports Park on March 2 and 3. The 2009 Formula BMW Americas Championship will open with Rounds 1 and 2 at Puebla, Mexico on March 20 – 22.
Formula BMW is the world’s leading entry-level series in formula racing. In 2009 the three Formula BMW series – Formula BMW Europe, Formula BMW Pacific and Formula BMW Americas – will be held in the key motor sport markets of Europe, pan-Asia and the Americas. Formula BMW will be regularly held on the undercard of Formula One. The series gives young racing talents the chance to enter professional motor sport in a safe racing car – the Formula BMW FB02.
The FB02 has been in use since the 2002 season. It is powered by a 140 hp BMW engine that takes it to a top speed of up to 140 mph. It ranks among the safest vehicles in its category and exceeds the FIA safety regulations that govern this class of car. Innovations such as the FORS (Formula Rescue Seat) were developed by BMW Motorsport specifically for Formula BMW. Following Formula One, Formula BMW was the first single-seater series outside the US in which the HANS system was made mandatory.
Formula BMW drivers have the opportunity to take part in an Education and Coaching Program that runs parallel with the racing season. The program includes driver coaching at the races by professional race drivers, attending a Formula One test, fitness courses, tuition in driving technique and strategy, as well as seminars on sponsoring and sport management.
Among the 20 drivers expected to compete this season in Formula One, there are now five Formula BMW graduates: Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil, Sebastian Vettel, Sebastién Buemi and Timo Glock.