2013 Italian Grand Prix Preview

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The European season comes to an end in Italy this weekend as the Formula One circus makes its annual visit to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Steeped in history, Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix every year since the championship’s inception in 1950 barring the 1984 race, which was held at Imola. The grand prix is the home race for Ferrari, whose loyal fans – the Tifosi – dominate the grandstands across the course of the weekend and the team boasts the best record at the circuit, having won the race eighteen times. However, quite whether the Scuderia can end its barren spell this weekend remains to be seen.

Italian Grand Prix Talking Points

Seb chases knock-out blow in championship…

Having won last time out in Belgium, Sebastian Vettel is currently sitting pretty with a forty-six point lead, and it is hard to see the German driver not winning a fourth consecutive title. At the site of his first win though, Vettel will be keen on surpassing the fifty point mark – equivalent to two race wins – heading into his favored Asian leg of the calendar.

…while Ferrari hope to impress at home

Fernando Alonso appears to be the only driver who can stop Vettel in 2013, and the Spanish driver has openly admitted that anything less than a win this weekend would probably end his title hopes. However, with Ferrari bouncing back to form in Belgium, the team could yet be on the cusp of a resurgence.

Ricciardo hopes to validate Red Bull selection

After the worst kept secret in F1 was finally confirmed on Monday, Daniel Ricciardo begins life at Monza knowing that he has just eight races remaining with Toro Rosso. In this time though, he must prove to his critics why Red Bull picked him to replace Mark Webber, and the Australian will be hoping to live up to the hype and not suffer a downturn in form à la Sergio Perez following his McLaren confirmation in 2012.

Questions surrounding Raikkonen’s future persist

Having missed out on the Red Bull seat, Kimi Raikkonen now appears to have two options in F1 for 2013: remain at Lotus, whose financials problems are becoming more and more apparent, or move back to Ferrari. The Iceman needs to think about what direction he wants the rest of his career to take, but for now the questions will remain.

Rain? Surely not!

Monza traditionally bathes in warm Italian sunshine across the course of the GP weekend, yet rain is forecast for the race on Sunday. Although it does not come close to the utter downpour that marred the race in 2008, the weather could yet play a part in the championship at Monza. Then again, we said the same at Spa…

Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Laps: 53
Corners: 11
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton 1:24.010
2012 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:27.239
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T11 to T1); T7 to T8

Friday – Free Practice 1: 04:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 05:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Sunday – Race: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)

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.”