IndyCar: Servia and RLL nearly win GP of Indy, stake case for more races

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As I wrote pre-season, some Oriol Servia is better than no Oriol Servia, and that some Oriol Servia damn near pulled off the upset in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

As the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ fourth round of the season commenced, the race finally got into a rhythm after a spate of yellow flags interrupted the middle of the race.

Servia, who had last pitted on the same lap as eventual winner Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay (Lap 53 of 82), did not have the full fuel mileage available to make the finish despite leading for seven laps from Laps 71 to 77.

It was a toss-up for the RLL team, which is only committed to four races with Servia (this was the third of four planned this season), as to whether to pit the Catalan for a splash or attempt to stay out, go for it and hope for a yellow that would have left him P1.

But the stop relegated him to 12th, which wasn’t representative of how well he ran after coming from 22nd on the grid.

“We were not super quick but at the end we knew that we either had to save a lot of fuel like some of the guys which meant we couldn’t attack and finish seventh or eighth or try to win,” he said. “If there was just one more yellow, we could easily get to the end. We only needed one yellow. It was a chance to win and when we were leading, that’s all we needed was one yellow but it didn’t happen but it was defi­nitely fun. From starting where we started, I think we came back really strong. We’re ready to attack the month of May very aggressively.”

Adding to the frustration for the RLL squad was the fact Graham Rahal turned in by far his best race of the season in the No. 15 National Guard Honda, running with the potential of a top-five finish before contact with Juan Pablo Montoya took him out following a restart on Lap 52.

“I got punted. Montoya was a lap down. He almost hit me actu­ally on the restart before. He tried to dive-bombed me into Turn 7. He was a lap down and I don’t know what he was trying to do playing with the leaders but he just ruined our day,” he said.

Servia only has the rest of the month of May scheduled, but the team is working hard on pursuing additional sponsorship opportunities to add to that.

As one of the series’ – and paddock’s – most popular drivers, it would be a welcome continuation for the rest of 2014.

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.”