MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Malaysian GP

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It would be wrong to say that the V6 era of Formula 1 “roared” into life two Sundays ago in Australia, but the new season began in dramatic fashion as the favorites struggled and the newbies flourished. Now, the teams are ready for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit, but has the fashion in which Nico Rosberg won the last race made these predictions any easier for our experts? Don’t count on it…

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. He did it in Australia, and he’ll do it again this weekend. I felt rather smug after picking him for Australia, truth be told, but he proved that he has what it takes to dominate races; I expect him to impress once again this weekend.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Despite Red Bull’s disastrous start to the season in Australia, there is no denying that the RB10 is a quick car. Maybe not ‘Mercedes-quick’, but still quick. Expect the three-time Malaysian GP winner to bounce back this weekend.

Most to prove: Sauber. Did anyone actually notice Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil in Australia? Both drivers need to show what they can really do in Malaysia. Or, you know, actually get on TV. That helps.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Jenson Button. Making a bit of a surprise pick here, but here’s my rationale: it’s notoriously hot in Malaysia but could rain too. Both play into his advantage; he’s good on conserving tires and has also been decent in the rain. A past Malaysian GP winner when it ended early too, and the McLaren seems a better prospect this year. 

Surprising finish: Valtteri Bottas. Going with the Williams driver to score his first career podium finish at the same track where fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen won his first GP.

Most to prove: Lotus. Double Q1 elimination at Melbourne and with little time to upgrade before Malaysia, here’s hoping that Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado are closer to the ballpark this weekend.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis HamiltonMercedes says it has spent its downtime post-Australia focusing on the W05’s reliability. That’ll be good news for Hamilton, who was forced to bow out in the opening laps at Melbourne with an engine problem. He’s never won at Malaysia but he’s been close in recent years with a pair of thirds in 2012 and 2013. This year, he ascends to the top step.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Checo’s race in Oz was altered dramatically by first-lap contact that forced him to race from behind all day. If he can get a clean start this weekend, the Mexican could be in good shape to be higher up in the points-paying bracket.

Most to prove: Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat. Both had a successful first Grand Prix, with Magnussen hitting the podium and Kvyat earning some points. But Malaysia’s heat and humidity are going to be a big challenge for them and fellow greenhorn Marcus Ericsson. Should their equipment hold up, it’ll be interesting to see how they themselves will do that in the cockpit as the race wears on.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Yes, he had a bad start to the season at Australia, but it’s hard to pick against a guy who has won 3 of last 4 in Malaysia. But watch out for Fernando Alonso, he’s just as good there, too. 

Surprising finish: Daniel Ricciardo. After being disqualified at Australia, Daniel Ricciardo will come back with a vengeance at Malaysia. I expect nothing less than a podium finish, if not a win.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel, again. With all the negative press Red Bull got in the preseason, plus Vettel’s poor run at Melbourne, he needs to prove he’s still the best in F1. Also, don’t forget Louis Hamilton; he’s in the same boat as Vettel when it comes to bouncing back from Australia.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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