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Renault banks first double Q3 run since return as works team

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The signs of Renault Sport F1 Team’s improvement were evident in Saturday night’s qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix (Sunday, 10:30 a.m. ET, CNBC), with the team getting both its R.S.17 chassis into Q3.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified seventh, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Williams and Romain Grosjean’s Haas, while Jolyon Palmer made it into Q3 for the first time in 24 races thus far in his Formula 1 career, and will start a career-best 10th.

The result is the best in qualifying for the Enstone-based team since Renault came back in as a full works constructor prior to 2016.

The last time this team in a previous guise got both cars into Q3 was at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. On that day, Grosjean qualified fourth and Pastor Maldonado eighth in what was then known as a Lotus-Mercedes, but with Grosjean incurring a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change. So Grosjean started ninth, Maldonado seventh, and Grosjean promptly delivered both his and Renault/Lotus’ most recent podium finish with a surprise but welcome third place finish after Sebastian Vettel incurred a late puncture.

A podium is likely out of hands for this team tomorrow; Hulkenberg remains in search of his elusive first podium of his career while Palmer has only scored one point thus far. That said, a chance for big points is on offer; Renault hasn’t got both cars in the points since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix, when Grosjean was eighth and Maldonado 10th.

For Renault’s scores last year, Palmer scored in Malaysia (10th place) while Kevin Magnussen scored in Russia (seventh) and Singapore (10th).

Renault is in search of its first points this season and Palmer estimated a chance for a good haul is there for the taking on Sunday.

“It’s been a much better day, yeah,” Palmer told NBCSN at the end of the session. “We’d had such a tough weekend. We sorted some balance issues and made it through.

“I made a bit of a hash in Q3 so had to put it into recharge mode. But I’m still happy. It’s good to be into Q3 and have a chance to get points.

“I think it was a competitive long run for us. If we keep it clean, we should get some points.”

2016 Knoxville Nationals champ Jason Johnson succumbs to injuries from sprint car crash

Photo courtesy Jason Johnson Racing official Facebook page
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Former Knoxville Nationals champion sprint car driver Jason Johnson has died from injuries suffered in a crash Saturday night in a World of Outlaws race at Beaver Dam (Wisconsin) Raceway).

Known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” for his aggressive style of racing, Johnson, 41, passed away this morning, according to an announcement by WoO. He was one of the most respected and well-liked drivers on the circuit by both fellow competitors and fans.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson, a Eunice, Louisiana resident, was racing for the lead in the main event on the one-third-mile clay track with eventual race winner Daryn Pitman, when Johnson crashed on Lap 18 shortly after a restart.

Johnson’s car left the track surface in Turn 3 and flew through at least one billboard adjacent to the racetrack, according to media and witness reports.

It took rescue workers several minutes to extricate Johnson, who was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit, Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel report.

How many will remember Johnson:

Johnson, who won the 2016 Knoxville Nationals – the sport’s biggest race – in Iowa in storybook fashion, had been a primarily part-time racer on various sprint car circuits from 1998 until he went full-time on the Outlaws series, capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.

MORE: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

Johnson had 12 wins on the Outlaws circuit, including two victories this season.

The Journal Sentinel also posted a statement from SLS Promotions, which promoted Saturday’s race:

“Everyone at SLS Promotions offers our deepest, most sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to Bobbi Johnson (Jason’s wife), Jaxx Johnson (the couple’s son) and the entire Johnson family and JJR Racing team.

“Jason was a great competitor and true ambassador for the sport. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him during his time on the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series trail. Jason will never be forgotten”

Other notables also commented on his death on social media:

According to the Journal Sentinel, Johnson is the second driver in four years to die at the small track northwest of Milwaukee. In September 2014, Scott Semmelann, 47, was killed there while practicing for an Interstate Racing Association event.

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