The World Series Formula Renault 3.5 teams have completed the first two days of off-season testing at the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit. Ben Hanley (Comtec Racing) and Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam) were top of the class, grabbing the two best times, with just 48/1000ths between them!
Ten days after the season drew to a close in Barcelona, men and machines were back on the track to begin preparations for the 2007 season. The Spring-like weather enabled the drivers to work in good conditions. Three groups of driver could be seen in the paddock at Castellet: the "dead-certs", who have already signed their 2007 contract, the "old hands", who are trying out a few teams before making a decision for 2007, and finally the "rookies", who are experiencing their first taste of the category, possibly with a view to taking part in next season's championship.
In the first group, we already know that Filipe Albuquerque and Davide Valsecchi will form the driver line-up at Epsilon Euskadi, which is now racing in the colours of Red Bull. At Interwetten.com, Carlo Iaconelli is also certain about his future: "Above all, the aim of these tests is to begin preparing for next season, so this is about long-term work. I am pleased with the progress that we have made over the last two days, even though I have not yet managed to make the most of the new tyres."
It was an "old hand" that recorded the best time of the two days of testing. After spending Wednesday with RC Motorsport, Ben Hanley switched to Comtec Racing today. He clocked a time of 1'15''562 in the last hour: "I am very pleased about today's result. Everything went well right from the word go. I wanted to show that I could push the car to its limits and the feel of the car was excellent when I put on new tyres. I have the impression that the standard of the World Series 2007 will be very high. But it's up to the RDD managers to decide which direction I take next."
After taking part in the final race of the season with Interwetten.com, Franck Perera then distinguished himself during the GP2 Series tests before getting back into the cockpit of a Formula Renault 3.5 here at Paul Ricard. The Frenchman celebrated his return with Prema Powerteam -- the team with which he won the Italian FR 2.0 Championship in 2003 -- by setting the second best time: "This team really is like a second family for me. Things went well here. We will decide what is next for me -- that could be a drive in GP2 or World Series -- next week."
The most impressive of the "rookies" was the American Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport), who set Wednesday's best time: "The car is a pleasure to drive. You have to drive carefully to make the most of the tyres and the grip. It's quite a natural step when you come from F3. My goal is to stay in Europe next year and I am seriously thinking about taking part in the World Series."
After missing out in yesterday's session, which was restricted to the top Formula Renault 2.0 drivers, Laurent Groppi completed his first laps with Tech 1 Racing. Out of action for much of the morning due to a mechanical problem, he nonetheless made good progress in the eyes of the team: "Yes, it was a good start, even though my track time with a set of new tyres was spoiled by two red flags. We just need to keep working!" The French champion teamed up with one of his former rivals, Julien Jousse: "I live in the region (le Var), but this is the first time that I have driven here! I am pleased to have set better times than some very good drivers that have raced in Formula Renault 2.0. Driving this car is hard going, physically. I need to improve my fitness!"
<pre> POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS TIME 1 Ben Hanley COMTEC 44 01:15.266 2 Mikhail Aleshin Carlin 45 01:15.276 2 Franck Perera Prema FRenault 58 01:15.610 3 Alvaro Barba Interwetten 35 01:15.791 3 Charlie Kimball Carlin 47 01:15.937 5 Alburquerque Epsilon Euskadi 51 01:15.965 4 Vitaly Petrov Prema FRenault 50 01:15.989 5 Jerome d`Ambrosio COMTEC 25 01:15.990 6 Allessandro Bonetti KTR 39 01:16.000 7 Iaconelli Interwetten 45 01:16.183 9 Marco Bonanomi RC Msport 47 01:16.202 10 Julien Jousse TECH1 RACING 31 01:16.351 12 Dani Clos Draco Racing Team 45 01:16.635 11 Davide Valsecchi Epsilon Euskadi 46 01:16.698 12 Michael Patrizi Victory 40 01:16.725 13 Chris Van Der Drift RC Msport 46 01:16.808 14 James Walker KTR 50 01:16.860 16 Carlo Van Dam Prema FRenault 53 01:16.897 17 Pipa Mann Draco Racing Team 31 01:16.939 19 Di Sabatino Cram 63 01:16.960 20 Juho Annala Jenzer Motorsport 46 01:17.012 21 Ciompi Cram 43 01:17.052 18 Mario Moraies Victory 42 01:17.064 22 Laurent Groppi TECH1 RACING 35 01:17.281 24 Johnatan Hirshi Jenzer Motorsport 42 01:17.371 25 Dominick Muermans GD Racing 39 01:17.800 26 Andersen GD Racing 34 01:17.938 27 Niki Sebastiani EuroInternational 64 01:18.121 25 Hugo Oliveras EuroInternational 33 01:18.317