Juniors take centre stage

The World Series Formula Renault 3.5 winter tests got underway today at the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit. Renault Sport invited the top drivers from Formula Renault 1.6, Formula Renault 2.0, Formula V6 Asia by Renault and Megane Trophy championships to put the 425bhp Formula Renault 3.5 through its paces.

Bright sunshine, mild temperature and no sign of the mistral: conditions were ideal this morning for the first of the off-season tests. Renault Sport had invited fifteen drivers to test the Formula Renault 3.5 over thirty laps, each team entered in the World Series looking after one driver.

Laurent Groppi was missing from today's line-up, but the French Formula Renault 2.0 Champion will complete his test on Thursday with Tech 1 Racing.

Although some drivers had already experienced the thrill of driving a Formula Renault 3.5, all of them were excited about the assets of the car, the power of its carbon breaks, its aerodynamic performance or the easy-to-use steering wheel mounted gearshift being the most frequently mentioned!

Filipe Albuquerque (Epsilon Euskadi; 1st, Eurocup & NEC FR 2.0): "I already know that next season I will be racing with Epsilon Euskadi. I had tested with the FR 3.5 last year. For me, it is more than just a question of completing thirty laps, it's about beginning to prepare of the 2007 season. As the end-of-year tests are not being held on tracks that will feature in next year's championship, I am going to be able to focus on my own personal progress."

Chris van der Drift (RC Motorsport; 2nd, Eurocup & NEC FR 2.0): "The World Series is my first choice for next season. I don't know as yet with which team, but I am enjoying working with RC. Obviously, the car is very different to a Formula Renault 2.0. It's a very enjoyable experience."

Carlo van Dam (Comtec Racing; 3rd, Eurocup FR 2.0): "I had already driven a FR 3.5 last year. This morning, I didn't get the most of the new tyres. Testing with the reigning team champions is an excellent experience. I will be testing with Prema tomorrow and will also be there for testing in Vallelunga."

Bertrand Baguette (Cram Competition; 4th, Eurocup FR 2.0): "I want to drive the World Series next year! I am testing with Cram here and I will be with Draco in Vallelunga at the end of the month. I am very pleased with the results from this initial contact."

Jaap van Lagen (Eurointernational; 1st, Eurocup Megane Trophy): "I have gathered the vast majority of the budget to return to the World Series. My number 1 goal is to sign with Comtec Racing. They have the same determination to win!"

Karun Chandhok (GD Racing; 1st, FR V6 Asia): "I had a good season in Asia. It's always a pleasure to get back into the FR 3.5, in which I took part in three races in 2005. I hope to win the lottery so that I can come back next year in this series, but I also pursuing opportunities in the USA."

Dani Clos (Jenzer Motorsport; 1st, FR 2.0 Italy): "I only managed to complete eight laps because of a problem with the clutch. But I got quite a good feel for the car and I still have a day and a half in which to progress."

Patrick Hogan (Carlin Motorsport; 1st, FR 2.0 UK): "It's an amazing car. I really enjoyed driving it, especially as the circuit is very secure. I managed to put in some good times on worn tyres, but I didn't get the most out of the new tyres. Obviously, I'd love to move up into this category."

Sebastian Hohenthal (Victory Engineering; 1st, FR 2.0 UK): "I was impressed by the car's brakes and its cornering speed. In the cockpit, with the steering wheel mounted gearshift, it's almost like playing a video game! In my country, Alx Danielsson's title win has brought the World Series into the spotlight. The number of spectators and the media coverage of this championship have been impressive. I hope to take part in 2007."

Craig Dolby (Interwetten.com; 1st, FR 1.6 Belgium): "There is a huge difference between the Formula Renault 1.6 and the Formula Renault 3.5! Everything about this car is fantastic, even when driving on worn tyres. I had a great time and I will be doing everything within my power to take part in this championship next year!"

Felipe Lapenna (Prema Powerteam; 1st, FR 2.0 Brazil): "I was impressed by the car. I have built up a good rapport with the people in the Prema team and I think I will be racing in the Eurocup and Italian Formula Renault 2.0 championships with them. It will be my first season in Europe and several Brazilian drivers have told me about the high standards and competitiveness of this championship."

Jonathan Hirschi (Draco Multiracing USA; 1st, FR 2.0 Switzerland): "I wasn't able to complete a lot of laps because of a faulty sensor, which meant the gearbox had to be removed. But it's a dream come true to drive this car. I hope to pursue my career in single-seater racing, and if possible in the Eurocup FR 2.0."

Steffen Muller (Pons Racing; 1st, Nordic Series FR 2.0): "Obviously, there is a huge difference between the car I have been driving this season and the FR 3.5. But I have been particularly impressed by the professionalism of the teams. The Nordic Series is a "family" championship, with small teams. I would like to pursue my career in the Eurocup -- that in itself would be a big step forward."

Xavier Maasen (KTR; 3rd, NEC FR 2.0): "I had already driven this car and worked with KTR last year. I am pleased with the work that we have put in today, even if my run on new tyres wasn't perfect. I hope to be able to take part in the World Series with this team, but I will also be testing with Tech 1 in Valencia."

<pre> POS NAME BEST TIME LAPS TEAM CAR# 1 CHARLIE KIMBALL 1:17:010 62 CARLIN 8 2 MARCO BONANOMI 1:17:060 55 PREMA 29 3 CARLO VAN DAM 1:17:190 41 COMTEC 27 4 ALBURQUERQUE 1:17:210 49 EPSILON 1 5 JAAP VAN LAGEN 1:17:240 65 EUROINTERNATIONAL 24 6 JEROME D'AMBROSIO 1:17:310 47 COMTEC 28 7 BEN HANLEY 1:17:400 42 RC 26 8 CRAIG DOLBY 1:17:420 35 INTERWETTEN 22 9 PATRICK HOGAN 1:17:445 43 CARLIN 7 10 ALESSANDRO BONETTI 1:17:491 47 KTR 6 11 DAVIDE VALSECHI 1:17:560 30 EPSILON 2 12 FELIPE LAPENNA 1:17:600 55 PREMA 30 13 STEFFEN MULLER 1:17:700 42 PONS 9 14 BERTRAND BAGUETTE 1:17:770 59 CRAM 11 15 CARLOS IACONELLI 1:17:810 48 INTERWETTEN 21 16 KARUN CHANDHOK 1:17:930 28 GD RACING 20 17 RAHEL FREY 1:17:970 60 JENZER 14 18 JULIEN JOUSSE 1:17:970 47 TECH 2 32 19 XAVIER MAASSEN 1:17:991 52 KTR 5 20 CHRIS VAN DER DRIFT 1:17:998 52 RC 25 21 MARIO MORAIES 1:18:080 81 VICTORY 16 22 ALESSANDRO CIOMPI 1:18:280 47 CRAM 12 23 SEBASTIEN HOHENTAL 1:18:280 34 VICTORY 18 24 DANI CLOS 1:18:390 28 JENZER 15 25 PIPPA MANN 1:18:650 35 DRACO 4 26 DOMINICK MEURMANS 1:19:201 16 GD RACING 19 27 ARTURO LLOBELL 1:19:680 47 TECH 1 31 28 HUGO OLIVERAS 1:20:460 41 EUROINTERNATIONAL 23 29 JOHNATAN HIRSHI 1:25:540 11 DRACO 3

-credit: renault