MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Korean GP

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The Korean Grand Prix may be one of the least-liked races on the Formula One calendar, but it could still play a pivotal part in the course of this year’s championship. That said, the destination of the title appears to be unchanged from the past three seasons: Sebastian Vettel has made our predictions relatively simply of late. However, with the Ferrari/Mercedes, Force India/McLaren and Caterham/Marussia battles getting closer and closer, could the race in Yeongam be another twist in the 2013 season?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Utterly peerless in the dry of late and even if the rain forecast plays a role, Vettel has starred in those conditions as well. Won Monza ’08 and China ’09 and posted a dominant performance in the wet here in 2010 before his engine blew. Impossible to pick anyone else right now.

Surprising finish: Jean-Eric Vergne. After six consecutive non-points finishes, what better place to end that streak with a match of his eighth place or better last year. Both Toro Rossos have been in points in Korea each of last two years.

Most to prove: Esteban Gutierrez. He got into Q3 at Singapore for the first time. Would love to see a similarly strong qualifying effort to match this weekend. He needs to keep improving his game with the prospect of Sirotkin entering and perhaps a more experienced second driver coming on board at Sauber in 2014.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Fun fact (or not so fun if you’re trying to chase him): The three-time defending F1 World Champion has led all but 12 laps in the history of the Korean Grand Prix.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari have been the only teams to hit the podium in this race’s history. That could change with Raikkonen, as tire management will be important on the Yeongam circuit – and this year’s Lotus has been known for being easy on their Pirellis.

Most to prove: Paul di Resta. I have to stick with di Resta in this category- five races now without a point after such a strong start to the campaign. Can he begin to close out 2013 on a high note?

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. The form book is convincing enough, but Seb has been totally dominant in Korea over the years as Chris touched on. Barring an act of God, get set to hear the German and Austrian national anthems ringing out over Yeongam – without the booing this time!

Surprising finish: Esteban Gutierrez. Gutierrez was highly impressive in Singapore, qualifying in the top ten and appearing to have a renewed vigor for the final flyaways. The speedy Mexican could pick up his first points of the season here in Korea, and it would be well-timed given that his future is yet to be confirmed for 2014.

Most to prove: Sergio Perez. If paddock talk is to be believed, Checo’s place at McLaren is at risk. Having threatened to bother the front runners in Singapore before his tires faded, the Mexican needs to up his game in the final few races and prove to the team that he has what it takes to be a serious championship contender.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Max Chilton. Just so I could pick someone other than Sebastian Vettel, who is surely going to win, barring some misfortune.

Surprising finish: Daniel Ricciardo. Hasn’t done much since signing for Red Bull. But he’s a dependable qualifier, went well here last year before suffering car problems, and Toro Rosso reckon the STR8 will suit Korea’s ‘a little bit of everything’ layout.

Most to prove: Sergio Perez. Has had a competent first season for McLaren but nothing that screams ‘star of the future’. Needs to start defying expectations – particularly in qualifying, where Button was always slightly weaker than Hamilton.

(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.”