MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Belgian GP

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The return of Formula One sees the return of MotorSportsTalk’s predictions which this week are particularly difficult given that we have lacked racing for almost one month now. Spa-Francorchamps is a track that often shakes up the pecking order, potentially firing a warning shot at Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull ahead of the rest of the season as both parties look for a fourth consecutive title. Alternatively, it could mark yet another spell of Red Bull dominance as per 2012.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. Traditionally strong at Spa and motivated to get back to winning and close down further in the title chase.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. More often than not he’s had poor luck on his return season but this is a track where Force India has done well. Could see a potential fifth or sixth place result in the offing for him, likely ahead of the McLarens and probably at least one Ferrari.

Most to prove: Romain Grosjean. After his La Source aerial attack a year ago, Grosjean needs a controlled, calm and full race at the legendary circuit.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. At Spa, drivers spend 70 percent of a lap at full throttle, which puts emphasis on reliability. With that in mind, I’ll give the edge to Vettel in the consistent RB9; Mercedes certainly has a winning pace, but Nico Rosberg’s engine failure at Hungary makes me wonder if reliability could still be a question mark for them.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Not sure if anybody else needed F1’s “summer vacation” more than the Brazilian. With his drive at Ferrari basically on the line in these next few events, though, I think he can rise to the challenge.

Most to prove: Paul di Resta. After Force India failed to score at either Germany or Hungary, di Resta needs to take advantage this weekend of what has been a traditionally strong track for the team.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. The “King of Spa” will be looking to take a fifth victory this weekend, and with Lotus expected to run their passive DRS device, it is hard to look past the Finn.

Surprising finish: Paul di Resta. Force India traditionally run well at Spa, so there’s no reason why di Resta could not battle for the big points and potentially even a podium this weekend.

Most to prove: Esteban Gutierrez. He may claim a point is close, but actions speak louder than words. Gutierrez is in need of a good result with the Sirotkin story doing the rounds, also.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. It beggars belief that a driver of Alonso’s talent has never won at Spa in F1. I think Ferrari will come back strongly from their disappointing end to the first half of the season and get Alonso back into the title battle.

Surprising finish: Mark Webber. He always goes well on the proper circuits. Expect him to do something special on his last visit to one of the world’s great tracks in an F1 car.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. Rumours increasingly suggest he is going to get the call-up from Red Bull. But though he has often qualified well this year he’s not had the race results to go along with them, and there are questions over whether he’s ready to drive for the world champions.

(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.”