Malaysia as a home race? For several teams, it is

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There aren’t any Malaysian drivers in Formula One, but for several teams, this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix is a home event.

The Caterham squad, run by Tony Fernandes, is entered in the championship under the Malaysian flag. And of course, the factory Mercedes team has primary sponsorship from Malaysian oil giant and race sponsor Petronas.

Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi confirmed in the team’s pre-race release that they’ll be very busy with advance events. He’ll be at a Renault event at Sepang on Tuesday, with Wednesday a heavy day of meeting sponsors and fans at the Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday afternoon from about 2pm.

Later in the day, they’ll head to see AirAsia’s head office on Wednesday afternoon and meet their staff. AirAsia is also run by Fernandes.

As for the race, Kobayashi said there were some promising signs the team took from Australia, but they need to do better this week.

“The second race of the year is Malaysia and it’s our team’s first home race of the year, so it’s going to be a good week!” he said. “I’ve obviously raced there a few times before, and finished in the points in 2011, and this year it would be great if we were able to fight for a point, but we’ll have to make sure we have a better Friday than we did in Australia if we’re going to have a stronger weekend at Sepang.”

Melbourne polesitter Lewis Hamilton, who’s yet to win in Malaysia in seven attempts, also discussed his team’s events and his prospects for the weekend.

“Malaysia is a stunning country and I always enjoy coming here,” he said in Mercedes’ advance release. “The fans are fantastic and it also forms one of three home races for the team alongside Germany and Great Britain. We have some exciting events planned with Petronas during the days building up to the race weekend so it will be a busy week but a lot of fun.

“I finished second on my Formula One debut here in 2007 and have been on the podium at the last two Malaysian Grands Prix but I’ve yet to win here. It would be amazing to stand on the top step at one of our home races and I’m looking forward to bouncing back after a tough weekend in Australia.”

Meanwhile Nico Rosberg has a chance to win back-to-back Grands Prix for the first time in his career, and to do so at the track where he scored his first Mercedes podium (third in 2010) would be a nice accolade.

The team’s goals are summed up best by Mercedes-Benz motorsport head, Toto Wolff.

“We head to Malaysia looking forward to an exciting week: not just at the circuit, but off track as well with Petronas,” he said. “This is the third time we have worked together to bring Formula One to the streets of Kuala Lumpur and it is a great opportunity to bring our Malaysian fans closer to their team. As one of our home races, we are extremely motivated to get a good result here.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.