Favourites dominate early exchanges
The World Series Formula Renault 3.5's brief sojourn in the Principality got underway this afternoon with the free practice session. Venezuelan Pasto Maldonado (Draco Multiracing USA) set the day's quickest time, in what became an incident-packed session, particularly in the final few minutes. Jaap Van Lagen and Alx Danielsson (Comtec Racing), James Rossiter (Pons Racing), Christian Montanari (Prema Powerteam) and Eric Salignon (Interwetten.com) will also be right up there when the serious action starts on Saturday.
A change to the starting line up for this weekend was announced during preliminary checks with Medhi Bennani replacing Pascal Kochem at Eurointernational. The Moroccan will also be taking part in the Istanbul meeting.
With only a few minutes of the session gone, it was the Comtec Racing drivers whose names went straight to the top of the timing monitors. Jaap Van Lagen celebrated his return to the World Series Formula Renault 3.5 in the most fitting manner by moving ahead of Alx Danielsson, who had not taken part I the Monaco round last year.
Several drivers suffered at the hands of the difficult Monaco circuit. Davide Valsecchi (Epsilon Euskadi) went off at the chicane, Ryo Fukuda (Tech 1 Racing) span at Portier and James Rossiter followed suite at Swimming Pool!
Meanwhile, the Comtec drivers continue to enjoy themselves up to the session's half-way stage. This was the cue for James Rossiter to muscle in on the fight, taking the fastest time. The British driver, fourth here in F3 Euro Series last year, was the first to dip under the 1'27'' mark. At that stage, he led from Christian Montanari, Jaap Van Lagen, Tomas Kostka (Draco Multiracing USA) and Ben Hanley (Cram Comp0x00e9tition).
Colin Fleming (Carlin Motorsport) and Patrick Pilet (GD Racing) then moved up alongside the leading contenders, claiming 3rd and 6th positions respectively.
With ten minutes to go, Pastor Maldonado set the session's best time in 1'26''895. At the same time, Mikhail Aleshin (Carlin Motorsport) span at Massenet and clipped the barriers. And then Alx Danielsson made a costly error at Rascasse. The red flag was then brought out to halt the session for a few minutes so that the marshals could clear the track safely.
The session only resumed, however, for a few minutes. Alvaro Barba (Jenzer Motorsport) crashed hard into the barriers at Sainte Devote, while James Rossiter collided with Jaap Van Lagen at the Anthony Nogues corner. The session had to be suspended again, but this time led to the early showing of the chequered flag.
Pastor Maldonado: The team did a great job and the car was perfectly set up. I didn't complete many laps last year, so it's almost like racing on the track for the first time.
James Rossiter: 0xb2a1ap slowed down a lot in the last sector and I thought he was letting me past. I didn't mean to run into him and I'm sorry about it.
Colin Fleming: I didn't race here last year, so this was my first real taste of the track. We put fresh tyres on half way through the session and they had an immediate effect. I was driving safely, with a little in reserve. I know I can push harder.