2013 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

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The 2013 Formula One season got off to an exciting start in Australia last weekend, with Kimi Raikkonen claiming the win following a great display of tire management and strategy. Although Lotus were pleased with his pace, they will undoubtedly be wary of Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and even Force India heading to the hot and humid Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang. With rain forecast, could we see another surprise?

Malaysian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lotus out to present their championship credentials

Although Kimi Raikkonen’s win in Australia was a display of sheer class and composure, many considered the biggest factor in his win to be the Pirelli tires. In terms of raw pace, Ferrari and Red Bull are the teams thought to be in the running for the win in Malaysia following strong double finishes. Romain Grosjean may have struggled in the other Lotus, but Raikkonen did set the fastest lap of the race in the dying stages. The E21 is a quick car, so expect Lotus to run strongly in Malaysia.

Ferrari and Red Bull vying for their first win

Ferrari’s double-score in Australia was impressive, and the Sepang circuit is a favorite of Fernando Alonso, so the team will be hoping to continue their pace from the last race. Red Bull were impressive in qualifying, and should the forecast rain strike they may be in the running for the race win. Once they tame the Pirelli tires, both teams should be able to match Lotus for pace.

Mercedes hoping for better

Nico Rosberg said before qualifying that if it was a wet session, he would ‘definitely’ be on the front row: he qualified sixth, and eventually retired from the race. Lewis Hamilton also struggled to match the front runners, finishing a full 45 seconds behind Raikkonen at the front. If rain hits Sepang, the Silver Arrows could challenge Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull, but their dry running will have to improve if they are to battle for the championship this season.

Just how far back are McLaren?

Australia was a disaster for McLaren, scoring just two points and finishing as the sixth-quickest team. Jenson Button insists that fixing the MP4-28 will be no easy job, but this is where the Malaysian weather could come to their rescue. Last year, Ferrari were in a similar position to McLaren, and Alonso took a superb win during a wet Malaysian Grand Prix. The rain could come to McLaren’s rescue, although it does present the question: are Button and Sergio Perez on par with Alonso?

Sutil keen to star once again… but could di Resta spoil the party?

Adrian Sutil’s stint in the lead of the Australian Grand Prix was the biggest surprises of the weekend. Having spent a year out, he showed few signs of rustiness, and had it not been for the super-soft tires he could have finished in the top five. Force India’s pace was underlined by Paul di Resta, who finished in P8 ahead of both McLarens. If the rain does shake things up this weekend, Force India could be the biggest beneficiaries.

Track: Sepang International Circuit, Sepang (5.3km)
Laps: 56
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Juan Pablo Montoya 1:34.223 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2012 Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen – 1:40.722
DRS Zones: Main straight (T15 to T1); T14 to T15

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/22:00pm ET (Thursday)
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/2:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 13:00pm local/1:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 16:00pm local/4:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 16:00pm local time/ 4:00am ET

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”