Van de Garde and Pons in command
Pons Racing showed itself to be the strongest team in World Series by Renault joint testing held at the HTTT Paul Ricard Circuit. Giedo Van de Garde set today's pole position in 1.14.378 while Alvaro Barba came out on top in yesterday's sessions.
The sunny weather and the improved track conditions -- providing better grip -- allowed all of the twenty-four drivers taking part in this morning's first session to make good progress.
Davide Valsecchi, the Italian driver testing for Epsilon Euskadi, was quick to feature at the top of the monitors, putting an impressive lap time of 1'14"568, half a second quicker than yesterday's fastest time (Barba, 1'15"058).
Both Carlin Motorsport drivers, Colin Fleming and Mihail Aleshin, made good progress to finish with the second and third fastest times. Valsecchi also drove well and these three were the only drivers to lap in under 1'15". Benjamin Hanley (Cram Competition) meanwhile played cat and mouse with Aleshin. Hanley is widely touted to become one of the strongest drivers of the 2006 campaign!
Pastor Maldonado, in a Draco Multiracing USA car, was out on the track in both sessions, but this morning he had to head back to the pits due to a problem with his input shaft. Despite this, he was still the sixth quickest driver of the session.
Matteo Meneghello, the other driver testing for Draco, was unable to complete the session after suffering a neck problem.
Three new drivers joined the joint tests: Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 driver, Julien Canal (GD Racing), Eurocup Megane Trophy driver Mathieu Lahaye (Saulnier Racing) and Mexican driver Daniel Martinez (Dams). Canal only took part in the morning session.
Carlin Motorsport made a really strong start to the second session, placing its driver Mihail Aleshin at the top of the timing screens. Valsecchi (Epsilon Euskadi) and the Draco Multiracing USA drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Milos Pavlovic, both followed in Aleshin's footsteps.
After having reported an engine failure in his Eurointernational World Series car this morning, Fabio Carbone was able to hold onto the provisional third best spot for part of the afternoon.
Later in the session, Giedo Van de Garde (Pons Racing) moved into provisional pole while the US driver Colin Fleming (Carlin Motorsport) set the provisional third fastest timed lap. The former F3 Euroseries driver held onto pole until the close of the session.
It was also a successful day's testing for Benjamin Hanley, who finished second fastest, ahead of Aleshin, Fleming, Maldonado, Valsecchi and Pavlovic.
Pons Racing, Carlin Motorsport, Cram Competition, Epsilon Euskadi and Draco Multiracing USA all showed that they were on an equal technical footing with all their drivers finishing within the space of one second.
The newcomers from the Comtec UK Team were also remarkable in testing with Jaap Van Lagen helping them to finish as one of the top 10 teams.
In a late development, Pascal Kohen (KTR) was the last driver to report for testing.
The session had to be interrupted twice since the restart at 2pm. Alvaro Barba, who was on fresh tyres, had to return the pit-lane after having improved through the opening section. Yann Clairay (Dams) meanwhile span his car just minutes before the close of the session.
Most of the World Series teams will return to their home towns today and, though they will not be seeing much track time over the coming months, there's still a lot of work to be done in the workshop. The 2006 Season is just around the corner!