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Porsche leads Friday WEC practice at the Nurburgring

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Porsche edged out Audi and Toyota to lead both practice sessions ahead of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nurburgring in Germany.

In the first on-track action for the WEC teams since the 24 Hours of Le Mans last month, all three of the LMP1 manufacturers debuted their high-downforce aero kits introduced for this weekend’s race.

The Le Mans-winning no. 2 Porsche crew of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb headed up a one-two finish for the German marque in their 919 Hybrid car, edging out the no. 1 team by 0.047 seconds.

Audi followed close behind with Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer – missing regular teammate Benoit Treluyer due to injury – finishing two-tenths shy of the fastest time in third place.

The three-time Le Mans winners drew closer in second practice, finishing just 0.014 seconds behind the no. 1 Porsche as Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley set the pace.

The second Audi R18 followed in third place, but with just 1.3 seconds separating the six LMP1-H cars, the battle over the rest of the weekend looks set to rage on.

“We can’t read too much into today’s lap times, as it is race conditions that count,” no. 1 Porsche driver Mark Webber said.

“But we got the maximum out of today and the most information we could. The Nürburgring is fantastic for these fast cars, and we we’re happy to see the sun all day.

“Car number 1 is in good shape and we’re looking forward to qualifying tomorrow.”

In LMP2, G-Drive’s no. 26 Oreca led both FP1 and FP2, enjoying an advantage of over one second in the evening. Manor finished second ahead of Strakka in FP1 before the two teams swapped places at the end of FP2, both running with revised line-ups since Le Mans.

GTE Pro offered a tight battle between Aston Martin Racing, AF Corse and Ford through the day. The no. 97 Vantage V8 shared by Richie Stanaway and Darren Turner posted the fastest time of the day in FP2, leading the pair of Ferrari 488 GTEs in P2 and P3.

AF Corse led FP2 in GTE Am from Larbre Competition, having trailed behind the no. 98 Aston Martin Vantage earlier in the day.

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

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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.”