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Porsche weathers the storm to claim FIA WEC victory in Mexico

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Porsche’s no. 1 crew of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley weathered a turbulent 6 Hours of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to claim their second win of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

In a race that saw all of the leading LMP1 manufacturers suffer setbacks across the course of the six hours, Porsche’s no. 1 919 Hybrid saw off the challenge from Audi to claim the first WEC victory in Mexico City.

After locking out the front row of the grid on Saturday, Audi looked ready to take the fight to Porsche in the race, and duly delivered in the early stages as Lucas di Grassi led in the no. 8 R18 after the first hour.

Porsche hit the front at the halfway stage just as a rain shower hit the circuit, prompting each team to keep an eye on the sky and change its tires accordingly.

The no. 1 car was hit with a stop/go penalty after crossing the pit entry line before bailing out at the last minute, handing Audi the advantage.

However, a brake failure for Oliver Jarvis while behind the wheel of the no. 8 Audi in the fourth hour sent the car into the wall, dashing its hopes of victory. Although Audi was able to patch up the car and send it back out, further issues resigned the no. 8 to the garage after 166 laps.

A tire battle ensued at the front between the no. 1 Porsche and the no. 7 Audi, Andre Lotterer piloting the latter with fresher and more suitable tires that saw him pull Bernhard in at around five seconds per lap.

Bernhard’s lead fell to under 20 seconds as he tried to make it through a wet-tire stint before switching back to slicks to stay on-strategy. The German was handed a reprieve when Lotterer locked up, hitting the wall and losing 30 seconds in the process.

A late rain shower threatened Porsche’s advantage late on, with Audi banking on a late splash-and-dash for Lotterer in the no. 7 car. The German marque rolled the dice, fitting him with intermediate tires with 12 minutes remaining to place pressure on Bernhard at the front.

With five minutes to go, the pressure on Porsche almost tolled. Coming out of the stadium section, Bernhard slid off the track after hitting the curb, kissing the barrier. Although the incident did not damage the 919 Hybrid, it allowed Lotterer to close in by 20 seconds.

After completing the final few laps in a tentative manner, Bernhard crossed the line after six hours of racing to secure the no. 1 crew’s second win of the season following last month’s success at the Nurburgring.

Lotterer brought the no. 7 Audi home in second place, while Toyota completed the podium with its no. 6 car after an impressive final stint from Stephane Sarrazin.

LMP2 saw the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan claim a memorable home victory, putting the Mexican flag on the top step of the podium. Early incidents saw the no. 43 car shared by Bruno Senna, Ricardo Gonzalez and Felipe Albuquerque drop back, handing the advantage to the no. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan.

G-Drive enjoyed a sizeable lead heading into the final hour, only for a dramatic brake failure with Rene Rast behind the wheel to scupper the Russian team’s hopes of victory, dropping it outside of the points.

This left the RGR Sport by Morand team to win the LMP2 class, with the no. 36 Signatech Alpine entry finishing second as Extreme Speed Motorsports – rather aptly for a team sponsored by a tequila brand – rounded out the podium in Mexico.

GTE Pro saw Aston Martin and Ferrari engage in a fierce battle throughout the six-hour race, with the British marque emerging victorious with its no. 97 Vantage V8. Darren Turner and Richie Stanaway saw off the challenge of the no. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE, while the second AMR entry was third despite a trip into the barrier earlier in the race.

Abu Dhabi Proton Racing scored victory in GTE Am after a race-long battle with KCMG and AF Corse. An early crash ruled the no. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 out of contention for victory, leaving the no. 88 Porsche 911 RSR to finish a minute clear of the no. 83 AF Corse, with KCMG’s no. 78 finishing third.

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.”