Mexico's Sergio Perez is nowhere near the top of the points standings, yet he might be the most popular driver at the United States Grand Prix because it's so close to his native country.
"I feel very happy to be so close to home. I left Mexico at a very young age. All these (other drivers), they always do a race to two during the year in their own countries and they have done all their careers in their countries," Perez said.
"I will have all my family, even my grandmother is coming here, my friends ... plus lots of Mexican fans. I feel very emotional about this weekend," Perez said.
Driving for Sauber, the 22-year-old Perez is quickly gaining fame in his native country. He's the first Formula 1 driver from Mexico to reach the podium in 40 years and is tenth in the drivers' standings heading into the final two races of the year. He will move to the famed McLaren team in 2013 to replace former F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, who has signed with Mercedes.
On Friday, there were signs of Perez fans all around the track.
Juan Carlos Garza was one of a group of nine Perez fans to make the six-hour drive to Austin from Monterrey, Mexico. The group wore red, green and white cowboy hats and on Thursday they walked the track with a nine-foot Mexico flag. Perez' father and brother stopped their car to take a picture with them.
"He's always in Europe where there's not a lot of Mexican support," Garza said. "He's going to see a lot of Mexican flags. This is going to be like the Grand Prix of Mexico."
Mexico was one of the top-selling countries for tickets sold outside of the U.S., race organizers said Friday. Perez is also likely to have fans among Texans in the crowd given the state's deep cultural ties to its southern neighbour.
Mexico isn't the only international presence at the race. A walk through the grandstand revealed conversations in Spanish, Italian, German and French. Race organizers say they sold tickets in 46 countries for the first grand prix in the U.S. since 2007.
But the race also has a distinctly Texas flair with barbecue at the concession stands and cattle grazing just yards away from the road on the drive to the track. About 75 miles south is the Alamo in downtown San Antonio.
Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone said this week he may not have time to see the famous mission.
"I'm sure other guys will, whether I'll get time, I don't know," Ecclestone said.