An Suk Won - A man with a plan and a mountain to climb.
Taebaek, South Korea - Representing nations from as far West as the Middle East, Australia in the South, and East to Japan, Formula BMW Asia covers a large portion of the planet, and each driver carries with them the future motorsport aspirations of their nation each time they take to the race track.
For An Suk Won (Team E-Rain) though, as one of only two South Koreans in the world competing outside their country, the 18-year-old has far more than just his own performance to concern him. In a country where motor racing is still very much a fledgling sport, it is up to the BMW Junior and Rookie to propel it into the limelight. And, according to fellow Korean and Team E-Rain principal Hongsik Jeon, his young charge certainly has his work cut out.
"Golf was not popular in Korea until pro golfer Seri Pak won the 1998 US LPGA Women's Open Tournament with her famous "barefoot shot" in water. Not only was it a tremendous golfing achievement, it was done in spectacular and unusual style, and the whole country suddenly became engrossed in the sport. Motorsport is growing in popularity in Korea, although not as fast as we would like. In fact, BMW Korea is the only company investing in Korean drivers," said Jeon.
It is also no accident that An is driving car number 61, as did Jeon's previous Korean Formula BMW Asia driver, You Kyong-Ouk. Explains Jeon: "Chan-Ho Park was the first ever Korean in Major League Baseball and did for his sport what Pak did for golf in Korea. From the beginning of his MLB career with the LA Dodgers, Park's number was 61. I want Kyong-Ouk and An to attain the same levels of success, which is why I chose that number."
Although not yet in the league of Pak or Park in terms of great moments in sporting history, last month in Beijing An celebrated his first podium finish, an indication, Jeon believes, of greater things to come. An is currently seventh overall in the driver standings, and fourth in the Rookie Cup, with six rounds of the 2005 season still to go. Quite an achievement for a driver who began the year with less than a handful of domestic races under his belt.
Despite having the mountain of single-handedly putting motorsport on the map in his country to climb, An is undaunted and busy concentrating on his career path which he has carefully mapped out. He had been planning to compete in Formula BMW Asia since its debut in 2003, and now he has made it, he is completely focussed: "This year my plan is to win the Rookie Cup in order to earn the BMW scholarship for next season. In 2006, I plan to win the Driver classification and hopefully make a move to the Formula BMW UK Championship. I must then achieve very good results as the first Korean ever to compete in Europe, and from there I hope to move to Formula 3 either in the United Kingdom or the Euroseries."
Team E-Rain is the only private Korean racing team competing outside the country, and this season is also fielding current championship leader Salman Al Khalifa (BAH) and exciting Indian teenager, Armaan Ebrahim. Jeon is committed both to developing Korean drivers and creating a successful, international team. In addition to the Indian and Bahraini drivers, the team also includes personnel from the UK and Canada, as well as from Korea. Team E-Rain's success is a reflection of the international and multi- cultural nature of Formula BMW Asia as a whole, and the ease with which so many nations work together effectively.
With a 2000 survey indicating that the motorsport industry in the UK has an annual turnover of around ?.6 billion (approximately Euros 6.63 billion) and employs almost 39,000 people, the potential for development of the industry in South Korea - with its highly-developed automotive industry - is certainly great.
However, before this can be realised, it falls to pioneering drivers such as An to first establish the popularity of the sport itself. Does he see this as a threat or an opportunity as he prepares to race at South Korea's Taebaek Circuit next weekend? "About 50/50," he says. "But I know in my heart I'm positive and hopeful."
Rounds 9 and 10 of Formula BMW Asia will be held over 20 laps each of the 2.5km Taebaek Circuit.
Formula BMW is the world's leading entry-level class in Formula racing. In 2005 the series will be held in Germany, Britain, Asia and the USA. Up-and- coming drivers as young as 15-years-old are given the opportunity of entering motor racing with the high-tech, standard FB02 race car.
This racing car has been seen on the grid since 2002 and has set standards particularly on the safety technology front. The single-seater is propelled by a 140 bhp BMW engine up to 230km/h and exceeds by far the safety requirements for its class. BMW Motorsport has developed the FORS Formula Rescue Race Seat especially for Formula BMW. The HANS safety system is also mandatory.
In 2005, Formula BMW will be staged five times as part of the Formula One support programme. All the series offer a multifaceted Education and Coaching Programme as well as sponsorship for promising racing talents. The best-known alumni of this talent hothouse are Formula One drivers Ralf Schumacher and Christian Klien.
BMW Motorsport Director, Mario Theissen: "Formula BMW offers talented young drivers more than just a car. In the Education and Coaching Programme we have designed specially for them, they learn everything they need to know to hold their own in the big wide world of motor racing. Formula BMW has shot out of the blocks to become the top entry-level class for Formula racing worldwide."
In December 2005 the Bahrain International Circuit will host the first Formula BMW World Final. Young racing drivers from the four regional Formula BMW series will compete against each other. The winner will get a Formula One test drive.