2013 Japanese Grand Prix Preview

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Japan may be nicknamed “the land of the rising sun” yet it marks the beginning of the end of the 2013 Formula One season and potentially the end of the championship race itself. Sebastian Vettel can become world champion for the fourth time at Suzuka on Sunday if results go his way. Having won this race on three occasions since 2009 and openly admitting that it is his ‘favorite’ circuit, it is difficult to see the German driver not claiming a fifth consecutive win. However, Fernando Alonso can force Red Bull to postpone their celebrations until the Indian Grand Prix at the end of the month by finishing in the top eight on Sunday.

Japanese Grand Prix Talking Points

History suggests that it could happen…

Alonso has failed to finish outside of the top eight just once this season when he retired on lap two of the Malaysian Grand Prix in March. Therefore, it’s difficult to see him giving Vettel the chance to win the title at Suzuka, but history suggests otherwise: in 2012, Vettel won the race as Alonso retired at the first corner. It’s unlikely the German driver will seal the deal this weekend, yet it’s not totally inconceivable.

Mercedes look to show true colors

Mercedes’ proposed resurgence in the past few races has fallen flat on its face, with both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg suffering from car troubles in Korea. However, their pace was certainly encouraging, and the team will be hoping to return to the podium at Suzuka this weekend as the battle for second place in the constructors’ championship hots up.

RoGro to continue his good form?

Since his embarrassing crash at Monaco, Romain Grosjean has been on a scintillating run of form that has secured his place at Lotus for 2014. And who can blame them for retaining him? In Korea, he had second place all to himself until the first safety car period allowed teammate Kimi Raikkonen to pass. Nevertheless, it was a mature and impressive performance from the Frenchman who will be looking for a repeat performance in Japan.

How incredible can the Hulk be?

Nico Hulkenberg’s performance in Korea last time out proved to the F1 world just what an incredible talent he is, holding off three world champions across the course of the race and eventually finishing in an amazing fourth place. Although a repeat of Kamui Kobayashi’s podium finish for Sauber in last year’s Japanese Grand Prix may be a step too far, Hulkenberg can edge closer to the seat at Lotus with another strong performance at Suzuka.

Massa and Sutil need to redeem themselves

Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil hit the headlines during the Korean Grand Prix last weekend for all of the wrong reasons. Both drivers spun at turn three with the Force India’s move ending Mark Webber’s race and bringing out the rogue jeep. Therefore, a solid performance is required in Japan to prove that they are worthy of seats on next year’s grid. Rewind twelve months, and finishing second here saved Massa’s Ferrari career. This time, it’s too late for Felipe at Maranello, but there are still five races in which he can prove to the F1 world that he still has what it takes.

Track: Suzuka Circuit
Laps: 53
Corners: 18
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:31.540 (2005)
Tire Compounds: Medium (option); Hard (prime)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:30.839
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:35.774
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T18 to T1)

Friday – Free Practice 1: 21:00pm ET (Thursday)
Friday – Free Practice 2: 01:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 22:00pm ET (Friday)
Saturday – Qualifying: 01:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Sunday – Race: 02:00am 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.”