Challenging for points... The World Series Formula Renault 3.5 Championship got underway last weekend at Zolder, in front of 87,000 spectators. It was the Tech 1 Racing team's debut in the category, with the entire ...
Challenging for points...
The World Series Formula Renault 3.5 Championship got underway last weekend at Zolder, in front of 87,000 spectators. It was the Tech 1 Racing team's debut in the category, with the entire outfit giving it their best shot.
The World Series by Renault's premier category kicked off on Thursday morning with four hours of free practice. The Tech 1 team had their work cut out to establish a good base set-up for Zolder: a technical circuit with new and extremely slippery asphalt. At the end of the session, driver Jerome d'Ambrosio had a big smile on his face. "I hardly recognise the car," he said. "The team has changed a lot of things and the car's behaviour is completely different. We can really get to work now. Luckily, this is a circuit that I know very well, so I think we should be able to do something good here."
Ryo Fukuda's day was blighted by a coming together with his compatriot Shimoda. Tech 1 Racing's Japanese driver hardly did any running, as the mechanics battled to fix his car. On Friday two more free practice sessions allowed the drivers more time behind the wheel, in between the red flags that frequently disrupted the action.
Saturday's first qualifying session was when the season really started in earnest. With the championship rules allowing only a limited number of qualifying laps, the right tactics were vital. Team boss Simon Abadie decided to send Jerome out in the first few minutes of the session. It was a wise decision, as the Belgian set eighth-fastest time! By contrast, Ryo Fukuda had to settle for 19th fastest.
The first race took place on Saturday afternoon. At the start of the parade lap, Jerome found himself unable to select first gear. He eventually got going after the main pack had already left, managing to retake his position on the grid as it formed up for the start. The young Belgian was careful to avoid the pile-up at the first corner and ended lap one in sixth place. He held onto the place until lap five, when he was forced to take a drive-through penalty for reclaiming his grid position after the incident during the warm-up lap. Jerome emerged right at the back, but drove a steady race to end up 19th at the finish. Ryo also put in a very good performance. After a couple of entertaining battles with Pastor Maldonado and Pascal Kochem, the Japanese driver climbed up to 11th by the finish -- just outside the points.
The qualifying format was changed for the second session, which was held on an extremely tricky and slippery track. The drivers were split into two groups, each with a session of 15 minutes at their disposal. Ryo and Jerome took eighth and ninth places in their respective sessions, meaning that they would start in the middle of the grid.
The two Tech 1 drivers soon found themselves running nose to tail in the main pack -- until lap six, when Ryo came into the pits for his obligatory stop. The team changed the required two wheels on his car perfectly, but the Japanese was forced to retire shortly afterwards when his engine overheated. The mechanics did an equally good job during Jerome's stop, but he too was unable to fight to the finish owing to a clutch problem.
The double retirement came as a disappointment to Simon Abadie, but the team's potential was clear throughout the weekend. He said: "There were many difficult things to get to grips with this weekend: all the red flags in practice, the change in the qualifying system, our first pit stops-- We're far from perfect but we're heading in the right direction. We could have scored points, which we didn't do here but certainly will in the future. On the whole I'm pleased with the way we've started this championship, which is at a very high level."
The next Formula Renault 3.5 round will be at the end of May. The Tech 1 Racing team will take part in its first race around the fabled streets of Monaco, as a curtain-raiser to the legendary Formula 1 Grand Prix.