Hamilton heads Mercedes 1-2 in first German GP practice

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Lewis Hamilton has given Mercedes the perfect start to its home grand prix weekend by finishing quickest in the first practice session at the Nurburgring this morning, with Nico Rosberg underlining the pace of the Silver Arrows by coming home P2 as Red Bull struggled to produce such pace, finishing over one second behind Hamilton at the top.

The session began in a rather quiet manner following the statement issued by Pirelli and the FIA earlier today, causing teams to be particularly cautious during the first few laps on the new tires. However, they stuck to their usual programme, completing a series of installation laps early on. This did not go to plan for Fernando Alonso, with the Ferrari coming to a halt on the entry to turn five during his outlap. Paul di Resta also had difficulties, bickering with his engineer over the radio, but it was not until around 30 minutes of the session had been completed that the first benchmark time was set by Jenson Button, eventually improving to a lap of 1:33.545 on the medium compound.

McLaren’s spell at the top of the timesheets was not to last long as Red Bull and Mercedes soon hit the front. Mark Webber, who won at the Nurburgring back in 2009, led from teammate Sebastian Vettel before the Silver Arrows went fastest via the last winner at this track, Lewis Hamilton. He and Nico Rosberg then exchanged fastest times with just 0.011 seconds separating them at one point, but Mercedes enjoyed a lead of over a second from Webber in P3. Other impressive times came from Adrian Sutil (P4) and Felipe Massa (P6), with both drivers looking to build on the points that they scored last time out at Silverstone.

However, it was not fun and games for all of the field. Max Chilton, Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez all had lock-ups heading into the tight first corner, whilst Rodolfo Gonzalez (deputizing for Jules Bianchi in FP1) received a €1000 fine for speeding in the pit lane.

The final set of runs saw Vettel and Grosjean both improving as Hamilton became another victim of the first corner, using the full extent of the run-off area, but he remained secure in top spot as the heavy fuel runs prevented any real challenge to his supremacy.

Mercedes will be delighted to have kicked off their home grand prix in such dominant fashion, and the sizeable gap to their rivals will make this session all the more pleasing. The question that will be asked this afternoon is whether or not the drivers feel safe racing on the prototype Pirelli tires, with the GPDA stepping up its warning last night.

(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”