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Renault beats Force India in midfield scrap at British GP

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In the battle of Formula 1’s midfield, Renault Sport F1 Team won the day in Sunday’s British Grand Prix, with Nico Hulkenberg delivering a sixth place for the Enstone-based squad as “best of the rest” behind the two Mercedes, single Ferrari and two Red Bulls that were in the top five.

Hulkenberg and Renault have tended to fade this year in the races when they’ve had qualifying pace. But after qualifying a season-best sixth on Saturday, which became fifth on the grid with Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty for a gearbox change, Hulkenberg backed it up on Sunday.

The German was poised for a top-five finish before Daniel Ricciardo came calling in the final laps in the Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged Red Bull.

Alas, Hulkenberg matched his season best result of sixth (Spanish Grand Prix) and was happy to have finished ahead of both Sahara Force Indias for his best career finish at Silverstone. He’d come seventh here for Force India each of the last two years.

“It felt good. Very good actually,” Hulkenberg told NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race. “I expected not too much but it was a positive surprise the pace and the balance were there. From Saturday to Sunday we scratched our heads with grip. But today it worked really well in our favor. We outpaced the Force Indias which is great news, and I didn’t see it coming at all.

“I think it’s couple things. It’s a high speed nature flowing tracks which suits the car better. I love the high speed stuff. I love this track,” he added about why he thought the race went better.

Hulkenberg said the car’s new floor and other updates to come will see Renault further up the order. This gives him and the team 26 points for the year – teammate Jolyon Palmer was unable to add to that with a brake-by-wire failure sidelining him before the race even started.

“This was an important thing for us to bring this floor and for it to deliver a big impact,” Hulkenberg said. “I know there is more coming for Budapest. I think the first half is decent – get to the points every now and then. But at this rate of progression we are looking for more vs. Haas, Williams and Force India and to take more points off them.”

Force India got both its cars home in the points again with Esteban Ocon finishing ahead of Sergio Perez for the first time this year, the pair ending in eighth and ninth. This marks the eighth time in 10 races Force India has banked a double points finish as they are a solid fourth in the constructor’s championship.

Neither was particularly thrilled with the result though, having been behind Renault at the weekend.

“Well I think it was a brilliant start. Felt like four-wheel drive!” Ocon told NBCSN. “We gained two positions. Then he took the place back. Great improvement on my side. There was a points finish again and we have to keep going.

“Sometimes they are faster than us. But it’s not consistent over the year. Maybe they drop a bit in the next race.”

Perez added to NBCSN, “It was a very difficult race today. Everything got complicated. We had much more pace than what we showed today. We didn’t get to show our true pace. Renault beat us big time. I couldn’t recover from the start. I think I managed my tires well. Silverstone is one of the most difficult tracks to overtake given how fast it is.”

Felipe Massa got the final point for Williams Martini Racing in 10th place, with one point a good result for the team as it celebrates his 40th anniversary in Formula 1. This extends Williams’ points-scoring streak to five races running. Lance Stroll endured a tough weekend, ending 16th, and ending his own three-race streak of scores.

Haas F1 Team’s longest ever run of consecutive points scores ended at five this race, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean unable to better 12th and 13th. Magnussen ran in the points most of the race but ran a longer first stint on softs and switched to supersofts. Despite starting 10th after being frustrated on Saturday, Grosjean never looked a points scorer and had late-race contact with a Sauber that set him back.

McLaren got Stoffel Vandoorne home to the flag in a season-best 11th place, one spot shy of his first points finish of the year. Meanwhile Fernando Alonso reported in yet another loss of power and retired the car. His Q1 heroics on slick tires on a damp track stand as his highlight of the weekend.

Things were worse down Toro Rosso way, the pair of drivers in Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. colliding on the first lap. Sainz was done on the spot while Kvyat got a drive-through penalty for an unsafe re-entry and two more penalty points assessed, giving him nine in a 12-month period.

Sainz lamented another tough race when speaking to NBCSN.

“I don’t comment too much on FIA penalties, but not an ideal situation when we take each other out. It is a frustrating situation as one can imagine,” he said.

“I normally do (have confidence in him) which is why I gave a lot of space to him for the same piece of tarmac, but when one car loses control and hits the back of you, you can’t do anything but turn the page for Hungary.”

The midfield battle in the Constructor’s Championship sees Force India a clear fourth, Williams still fifth with Toro Rosso and Haas having lost a key opportunity to score today and Renault making a big push to get up to sixth as a result of Hulkenberg’s eight-point haul.

Bruni, Snow win GT poles for IMSA at Lime Rock

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A pair of first-time polesitters have the top spot for this weekend’s GT-only IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park. Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole for Porsche while Madison Snow has his first pole of the season.

GT LE MANS

Just 0.535 of a second covered the four manufacturers and eight cars in GT Le Mans in qualifying, but up front, Gianmaria Bruni has his first pole as a Porsche factory driver.

The Italian, in only his third weekend as a factory GT driver and second ever at Lime Rock and sharing the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Laurens Vanthoor, posted the ultimate pole time of 50.404 seconds around the 1.53-mile circuit.

“I’m very happy to do my first pole with Porsche, first qualifying. This team has taught me good things and gets the most out of it,” Bruni told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after the checkered flag. He’s the 23rd different GTLM polesitter in IMSA since the 2014 merger, this surprisingly his first pole in the series.

Richard Westbrook took the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into second at 50.540 in the car he shares with Ryan Briscoe.

The No. 911 Porsche and No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM are third and fourth, with the pair of Corvettes next.

The No. 4 Corvette C7.R is back in action this week following its accident at the end of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Per Corvette Racing, repairs to the car included: the entire front-right corner (components, bodywork), steering rack, diffuser, wing and changed a chassis tube due to a crease. There were no other cracks or damage to the frame. That car qualified fifth in the hands of Tommy Milner, who shares the car with Oliver Gavin. The pair won Corvette Racing’s 100th race as a team this race last year.

GT DAYTONA

After a run of seven manufacturers scoring pole positions in the first seven races in GTD, the streak was broken Friday at Lime Rock Park.

Not too far from its New Jersey base, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was the first car to score a second pole this year, this time in the hands of Madison Snow. Snow joins Bryan Sellers (Long Beach) as polesitters for this car this season, and this at least keeps the streak of different drivers alive.

The Nos. 54 CORE autosport and No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the hands of Colin Braun and Patrick Long were next. Snow’s 52.508 best lap edged Braun’s 52.699 and Long’s 52.836, with Jack Hawksworth best of the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 brigade in fourth and Jens Klingmann taking the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 into fifth.

The top 15 of the 17 cars in GTD were separated by only 0.992 of a second around the 1.53-mile bullring.

The two-hour, 40-minute race runs late Saturday afternoon, from 3:05 to 5:45 p.m. ET.

Mid-Ohio, Honda Racing go galactic for 2017 at-track camping theme

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Honda Racing will channel a galactic theme for this year’s camping festivities at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a popular camping venue on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.

This marks the third year of a contest for best campground site, with various Honda Indy 200 gifts on offer. The theme name this year is “May the G-Forces Be With You,” and the hashtag is #CampingWithHonda.  Last year’s was a “Christmas in July” theme, complete with Santa Claus. The full release from the track is linked here.

As this year’s event alludes to a very popular galactic film series in all but name, it will see a number of participants in the weekend festivities by to judge the campsites at the track – potentially in character!

Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in IndyCar, will visit the sites Saturday after qualifying to choose the winners. He did so last year as well.

Photo: PWC

Others, such as last year’s Mid-Ohio race winner Simon Pagenaud and RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 factory driver in Pirelli World Challenge, Ryan Eversley (right), are expected to attend as well – though whether as themselves or potentially in a special character remains to be seen.

“It’s always a thrill and a special part of the Mid-Ohio weekend to take part in Honda Racing fun festivities like ‘May the G-Forces Be With You,'” Eversley told NBC Sports; the Atlanta native finished second in the second PWC GT race here last year in the previous generation TLX-GT, in one of his best drives of the season. “These guys always know how to cook up some fun activities and so if there’s an opportunity to dress up, have fun and play along with it, I’m down!”

Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud, who was a longtime member of the Honda and Acura family before his move to Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered, IndyCar program (right), added, “For me, as a fan, this film series is just the best. I love the battle between the light and dark side of the force, because I feel like we can all identify with that. I try to channel the force when I’m in my race car, so this will be a really fun weekend in Mid-Ohio.

“I plan to bring something to show my pride at the track, but I won’t ruin the surprise for you guys in advance!”

Expect similar characters to be present on site on Saturday evening. There’s also going to be a bonfire, live band (Columbus group MidLife Crisis) and s’mores, plus branded lighted batons which should display well at the bonfire on Saturday.

And for James Hinchcliffe, another Honda driver who is no stranger to having fun, he’s also part of the buildup to this event, as evidenced by the event teaser below.

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”