With more and more Asian drivers finding success in motorsport over the recent years, 2016 is shaping up to be a big year for the Asian motorsport industry. With Asian drivers competing in some of the biggest series in Europe, and champions defending their titles in regional series, we take a look at some of the Asian drivers who will be contesting their most important seasons ever, and cementing themselves as the best drivers in the region.
- Rio Haryanto (Indonesia)- Formula One.
A surprise entry into Formula One at the last minute just a couple of weeks ago, makes Rio the first Indonesian to race in the pinnacle of motorsport. A well known name in Asian motorsport, Rio started in Formula Asia 2.0 and Asian Formula Renault series in 2008, winning to races in Formula 2.0 and finishing third overall.
After winning the Formula BMW Pacific championship in 2009, Rio moved up to the GP3 Series with manor Racing and also having a test drive in their Formula One car. Winning three races over two seasons in GP3, Rio finished 5th overall in 2010 and finished 4th overall in the GP2 Series with Campos racing and 3 wins last year.
Rio’s most successful wins have been in wet conditions, thus making him an exciting prospect to watch in F1 should there be any wet races. Success in F1 in the bottom team this year is quite a possibility considering their car is completely brand new with the latest technology, Mercedes-Benz Hybrid Power Unit and the expertise of former McLaren Team Manager Dave Ryan, legendary former Ferrari and McLaren engineer Pat Fry and former Ferrari Chief Designer Nikolas Tombazis.
- Jazeman Jaafar (Malaysia)- Blancpain Enduro Series.
Long hailed as the next Malaysian to race in Formula One since Alex Yoong, Jazeman has spent the majority of his racing life in Europe, based in the UK, supported by Petronas with access to the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
Jazeman had quite a successful 4 years in British F3 from 2010 to 2013, winning 6 races including two consecutive Monaco Grand Prix. He just missed out on winning the British F3 championship in 2013 after being taken off by another driver in the wet final round. But his second place overall earned him a driver evaluation test with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team.
After British F3 Jazeman moved up to the Formula Renault 3.0 series, which is seen by the vast majority of F1 power players as the best stepping stone to F1.
Two full years in this series wasn’t as strong as he hoped but last year he was fighting for a top three finish in the championship with one win, one pole and four podiums to his name.
Unable to find the full funding necessary for a Formula One drive, Jazeman will be racing in the Blancpain Endurance and Sprint Series this year, including the Spa 24 Hours, driving a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3 for the HTP Motorsport team.
A very different drive to the single-seat formula cars he’s used to, it will be a challenge, but he needs to fight hard to prove himself and keep the F1 hopes alive.
- Alex Yoong (Malaysia)- Audi R8 LMS Cup & GT Asia Series
The most famous name in Asian motorsport needs no introduction. Alex Yoong became the first Malaysian Formula One driver in 2001 for the Minardi team, partnering both Mark Webber and double Driver’s World Champion Fernando Alonso.
After stints in the popular A1GP, Champ Car, V8 Supercars, Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and Le Mans Series, Alex found his true home in the Audi R8 LMS Cup.
Alex became the first driver to win two consecutive Audi R8 LMS Cup championships in 2014-15, making him one of the most exciting drivers to keep an eye on this year as he tries to break his record and win his third championship.
His race program is busier in 2016 as he also contests the GT Asia Series racing in another Audi R8. Alex will also be racing in the Nurburgring 24 Hours and the Sepang 12 Hours, along with co-hosting the Formula One broadcasts on Fox Sports.
- Yuey Tan (Singapore)- Porsche Carrera Cup Asia
Singaporean Yuey Tan was a relatively late starter in Asian motorsport taking to the track in his early 20’s and competing in his first race in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia in 2008.
It didn’t take long for Yuey to get to grips with the car finishing in the top 7 of Class B every year since his first season.
Finishing the 2013 and 2014 seasons second in class, Yuey’s tenacity and fighting spirit finally paid of in 2015 when he was crowned Class B champion. His ‘never-say-die’ attitude on and off the track was most prevalent in the final championship deciding race of the year when he fought back in the last laps to clinch the title by one point.
2016 will be a big year where Yuey will want to stamp his authority in Class B again, driving for Team Jebsen, and truly dominate from start to finish.
- Andrew Tang (Singapore)- Porsche Carrera Cup Asia
We can’t talk about how exciting the Class B championship fight will be in the PCCA without mentioning up and coming star, Singaporean Andrew Tang.
Andrew has been a shining young talent since his first days in karting seven years ago, and has been hailed as Singapore’s best chance of getting into Formula One.
Scoring wins and podiums since his first year in karting, Andrew also found success in Europe, fighting for podiums in the Rotax Max World Finals and WSK Master Series.
After a relatively ‘slow start’ in the fiercely contested Toyota Racing Series in 2013, Andrew went on to dominate the following year to become champion, in only his second year of driving in a single-seat series.
Andrew’s racing career took a blow in 2014 when he was forced to do National Service.
Not racing for more than a year Andrew entered the Porsche China Junior Programme and beat more than 1,000 young drivers to be become the first Porsche China Junior. His reward is a full season in the Porsche Carrera Cup driving in Class B. It will be a tough and important year for Tang, not only to prove himself but also try to take some glory of reigning Class B champion Yuey Tan. It’s going to be an exciting fight between the two Singaporeans.
- Akash Nandy (Malaysia)- GP3 Series
This 19-year-old driver is certainly one to keep an eye on this year. Akash will be the only Asian (ex-Japan) to compete in the GP3 Series which is one of the feeder series to Formula One.
After a number of wins in karting, Akash was quick to graduate into single-seat formula racing winning races and finishing 5th in the 2011 JK Racing Asia Series.
After a reasonable effort in the 2012 Formula Pilota, Akash really proved himself in the 2013 Formula Masters China Series taking four wins and six podiums to finish 3rd overall. This included a very impressive win at the Macau Grand Prix.
2015 was a big year for the Malaysian as he won both races in the MSV F3 Cup at Spa-Francorchamps, and just missed out by one point on becoming the AFR Pokale Formula 3 champion. A European formula series where Akash won 8 of the 14 races.
Akash is at the top of his game racing single-seat cars and should be competitive from the start of the GP3 season. Will he become the next Malaysian in Formula One?