Vettel dominates Belgian GP to claim 5th win of 2013

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Belgian Grand Prix in emphatic style after jumping pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton at the start of the race and rarely being challenged from there on in.

The German driver’s pace was on another level to that of the Mercedes, and it was actually Fernando Alonso who – despite starting P9 – posed the greatest challenge to the defending world champion. However, the pace of the Ferrari F138 meant that the Spanish driver was never really in contention for the victory, although it was a sparkling performance from the two-time world champion to finish second.

Off the grid, Hamilton made a clean getaway whilst Mark Webber endured another disastrous start to fall down to sixth from third. His teammate, Vettel, managed to hold onto second place through La Source before passing Hamilton at the end of the Kemmel straight and proceeded to open up the gap. In the other Mercedes, Nico Rosberg, was a steady third ahead of Jenson Button for McLaren and a fast-starting Fernando Alonso who had started down in ninth. Alonso soon made use of his DRS and KERS to pass Button into Les Combes, moving up to P4, before making the same move on Rosberg just two laps later. The hero of qualifying, Giedo van der Garde, managed to stay in position to begin with but, along with the Marussias, soon dropped towards the back of the pack. Five-time winner in Belgium Kimi Raikkonen was made to work by Nico Hulkenberg for P8, but the Finn eventually passed the Sauber despite suffering from high brake wear. The team subsequently elected to pit the German driver early, aiming for a two-stop strategy.

Hulkenberg’s example was soon followed as Lewis Hamilton became the first of the front runners to bail and take on fresh tires. At McLaren, Sergio Perez was forced into pitting after making an aggressive move on Grosjean and receiving a drive-through penalty. Alonso had been cutting the gap to Hamilton, and he quickly set about catching the Briton after his first stop by quickly disposing of Grosjean. The Ferrari soon made it past at La Source, and Alonso pulled off a brilliant defensive move to hold onto the position despite Hamilton using DRS. After his stop, the Vettel’s lead had been cut but he still looked comfortable out in front, and he soon re-opened the gap to over seven seconds.

As Vettel streamed away at the front, there was some great racing in the midfield as Adrian Sutil made a brave pass on Esteban Gutierrez on the run up to Eau Rouge, while Grosjean managed to go far enough into the race that he could consider stopping just once. Suffering from brake problems, Raikkonen attempted a pass on Massa into the Bus Stop chicane and went straight on, giving Lotus no option but to retire the car thus ending his remarkable run of twenty-seven consecutive point scoring finishes.

Among the leaders, Hamilton was once again the first to stop and he was followed by Alonso two laps later. Vettel managed to go deeper into the race and emerged from his final stop still leading from the Ferrari. In the midfield, Pastor Maldonado and Paul di Resta made contact at the chicane, sending the Force India into the wall and out of the race.  However, with no safety car required, Alonso’s only hope was outpacing Vettel on track. However, The German driver was given the hurry-up by his engineer in case rain hit in the closing stages of the race, whilst Button was enjoying a good race in P6 as he went deep into the race on the prime tire. Just ahead of him, Webber and Rosberg were duelling for fourth place, but the Australian driver was forced to bide his time during his final appearance as an F1 driver at Spa-Francorchamps.

Gutierrez and Maldonado both received drive-through penalties late on for their misdemeanours, whilst last year’s Spa bad boy Romain Grosjean made his one-stop strategy work well, but he could not hold off a late-charging Felipe Massa in the battle for seventh. Just to underline his supremacy at Spa, Vettel posted the fastest lap of the race late on only to be told to ease off by his engineer, Rocky. Eventually though, nothing could stop the German driver as he romped home ahead of Alonso by 16.8 seconds.

Mercedes will be pleased to have finished high in the order with Hamilton third and Rosberg fourth, with the German driver holding off a stiff challenge from Webber late on. Jenson Button also put in an impressive performance to finish sixth ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean, whilst Adrian Sutil was the sole surviving Force India in ninth. Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a disastrous qualifying to finish 10th for Toro Rosso.

The result sees Vettel claim his fifth win of the season and extend his championship lead to 46 points. With eight races to go, the championship is far from over, but Red Bull appear to be going from strength-to-strength.

NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations, including NHRA Summernationals, effective immediately

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.”

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.”