BMW Plan Junior Series to Develop US Talent

BMW will launch a new junior race series in the United States next year to help bring American talent into Formula One, motorsport director Mario Theissen said today.

BMW Plan Junior Series to Develop US Talent

BMW will launch a new junior race series in the United States next year to help bring American talent into Formula One, motorsport director Mario Theissen said today.

The last US Formula One driver was Michael Andretti, with McLaren, in 1993. Andretti's father Mario was the country's last F1 champion 25 years ago.

"To us it would be very positive to have an American driver," Theissen, whose company are engine partners to Formula One leaders Williams, told a news conference at the US. Grand Prix.

"Of course he needs to be competitive and it's a long way to get competitive. And it's maybe more difficult here in the States to develop himself into a competitive Formula One driver than in Europe.

"That's why we are about to set up a new race series here in the United States, Formula BMW," he added.

The series is already established in Germany and Asia and will also be started up in Britain next year, aiming at drivers aged between 15 and 17 graduating from karting to single seater car racing.

"We are not only providing the car and the series, we are also providing an educational programme to become a racing driver to learn everything it takes to develop in the world of motorsport," said Theissen. "I think this is the first step to enable drivers to become a Formula One driver."

Finland's Nico Rosberg, son of former Formula One champion Keke, has tested a Williams F1 car already after winning the German Formula BMW title last year at the age of 17.

The United States, where NASCAR is the favourite form of motorsport, is a huge but largely untapped market for Formula One. The US Grand Prix returned in 2000, after slipping off the calendar in 1991, and drew a record crowd at Indianapolis.

"It is the most important market for BMW," said Theissen. "Everybody would love to see Formula One gaining importance in North America. I think we are on a slope, an upward slope, and I very much hope we continue on that. And I could even imagine having more than one race here."

Formula One used to have two races in the United States, in the 1970s and early 1980s, with a variety of venues used. North America will however have only one slot on the 2004 calendar after Canada was axed.

Honda's Formula One representative Otmar Szafnauer said the Japanese carmaker was also keen on expansion. "It is the biggest market for Honda," he said. "I think we sell about 50 percent of our cars in North America...two races here wouldn't go amiss, perhaps one here and one on the West Coast. It's a big country."

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