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Strong British GP qualifying for Renault; Hulkenberg P5, Palmer P11

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Renault Sport F1 Team put together its best performance of qualifying this season for Sunday’s British Grand Prix (7:30 a.m. ET, CNBC) as Nico Hulkenberg posted yet another great under-the-radar lap and the under-fire Jolyon Palmer turned in one of his best laps of the year.

Hulkenberg qualified sixth, winning the unofficial best of the rest battle behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. With Daniel Ricciardo knocked out in Q1 with an apparent turbo issue on his Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged car, it opened up a spot on the third row for someone from the crowded midfield to emerge.

Valtteri Bottas’ five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change knocks the Mercedes driver back to ninth and promotes Hulkenberg to a season-best fifth on the grid, and along with that his best qualifying effort since joining Renault at the start of the year.

Hulkenberg hailed both the team’s strategic calls from the pitwall during the rain-affected session and the upgrades that have come this weekend, as Renault celebrates its 40 year anniversary in Formula 1 since 1977.

“Today we had a very successful qualifying and will start the race just behind the top teams,” Hulkenberg said. “I had a good rhythm and we had good times. The team made the right calls for the right track conditions; there was a nice flow. I was feeling calm and confident with the car so I was able to produce a good lap.

“The upgrades we brought here this weekend seemed to also have played their part in our step forward. That said, tomorrow’s race is the true test. Let’s try and have a clean race. We’ll push very hard and I’ll be very happy to bring points home.”

Hulkenberg has scored 14 points this year, with a best finish of sixth place in Spain.

Palmer remains yet to score but was pleased with his performance, having only just missed Q3 to McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

“Yeah starting P11 is my second best all year. There’s a really good feeling with the car,” Palmer told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “I needed maybe a tenth to beat Stoffel but I’m still happy with that.

“Normally I start further back! I’m confident. If there’s the normal chaos I’m pretty confident we can get some points.”

Sporting Director Alan Permane hailed both drivers’ efforts.

“We are of course very happy with the result today,” he said. “The aero updates used this weekend for the first time worked well and Jolyon just missed out on Q3 by the narrowest of margins.

“Nico is well placed for the race and Jo has a free tire choice so we’re looking forward to the start and converting the result today to points tomorrow.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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