The future starts here
Today, at the invitation of Renault Sport Technologies, the best drivers from Formula Renault 2.0, as well as the Eurocup Megane Trophy champion, tried their hand at the wheel of a Formula Renault 3.5 at the Paul Ricard HTTT. Collective testing will continue until Friday.
Yesterday's heavy rain meant the drivers had a wet track to contend with at the start of the morning session. Wet-weather tyres were a must. And so it was on a slippery and treacherous track that the eleven drivers invited by Renault Sport Technologies got their first taste of Formula Renault 3.5. For Daniel Ricciardo (WEC champion and Eurocup runner-up), Roberto Merhi (WEC runner-up and 4th in Eurocup), Pal Varhaug (Italian champion), Tristan Vautier (French championship runner-up), Jesse Krohn (Finnish champion), Antonio Da Costa (NEC runner-up), Christopher Zanella (Swiss champion), Geoffrey Kwong (FR Asia Leader), Cesar Ramos (7th in Eurocup) and Michael Rossi (Eurocup Megane Trophy champion) the task was not easy, but all of them were able to switch to their slicks later in the morning.
Tobias Hegewald (5th in Eurocup) was also invited, but the German driver suffered an injury a few days ago.
Adam Christodoulou (UK Champion) who was today shortlisted for the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award, will be in action on Friday. Today, his cousin, Riki Christodoulou (Red Devil Team Comtec), who finished fifth in Formula Renault UK this year, produced the best performance of the morning. The British driver, who took part in a Formula Renault 3.5 Series testing session last season in Valencia, was followed by Antonio Da Costa (P1 Motorsport), Marco Barba (Prema Powerteam) and Albert Costa (Tech 1 Racing).
The conditions improved in the afternoon, and so, accordingly, did the times. Spanish driver Dani Clos (Epsilon Euskadi) clocked the quickest time of the day in 1'16''150, ahead of Marco Barba and Miguel Molina (KTR). "Formula 3.5 Series is one option for us for 2009. This was a good day for us. We were constantly in the leading group," said Clos. "After a difficult season in Formula 3 it was important for me to put in a good performance today."
Antonio da Costa: "For a young driver like me, it's really lucky to drive a car like this. It's teaching me a lot. And I was quick too, which makes it all the more enjoyable. In the rain as well as in the dry, I was on the pace. I'm sure this test will stand me in good stead for the 2009 season of Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0."
Albert Costa: "Despite the wet track this morning, the car's grip is impressive, as are its brakes. I got the feel for it little by little and just kept on improving. It was also very interesting working with Tech 1 Racing. They put me at ease and helped me make good progress. It was a very rewarding test."
Daniel Ricciardo: "I've had the chance to drive an FR2.0, an F3 and now an FR3.5. It's great for building my experience. The FR 3.5 is the highest performance car I've driven this season. It is a great drive and I soon felt comfortable. I still have tests lined up for F3 in November and December and then I'm hoping to go back to Australia once everything's decided for 2009."
Roberto Merhi: "I've learnt a lot today. I'm going to drive all three days, so the aim isn't to set the fastest lap right from the word go! We've worked hard, especially on the set-up. I'm very happy with the car now and I hope that we will be able to up the ante tomorrow."
Tristan Vautier: "I've never driven such a powerful car. It went well. I could have done better, but I didn't handle the traffic well. In the wet you have to be a lot more disciplined than in FR 2.0. I really want to have another go soon."
Cesar Ramos: "I'd like to thank everyone for this test, it was incredible. The speed through the bends is amazing. I started with a series of ten laps in the wet, which was no bad thing, as physically it was hard work. I love the car. Now my goal is to race in Formula Renault 3.5 Series next season!"
Pal Varhaug: "The grip, the ground effect, the power: there was a lot to learn today. I had a bit of trouble physically. The car is a lot more demanding than an FR 2.0. Now I know I have a lot of fitness work to do!"
Christopher Zanella: "This car really takes it out on your neck and arms, much more than a Formula Renault 2.0. It was hard work at the start of the morning, then I had a lot of fun in the dry. It was a terrific experience. Next year I'm going to try my hand at Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0."
Jess Krohn: "There was a lot to take in this morning, the circuit, the car, etc. The FR 3.5 is much more powerful than an FR 2.0. That takes time to get used to, as do the brakes, which are a lot more responsive. It was a really good experience to drive a car like this, it's another world!"
Geoffrey Kwong: "It's hard work trying to get to grips with a car like this in the wet. I didn't take any risks; above all the goal was to understand how the car works and how it differs from an FR 2.0. I'm driving again on Friday and I'll be trying to step up the pace."
Michael Rossi: "My last experience in single-seater racing dates back to 2006 in FR 2.0. I got caught out, as I was taking the same racing line as in Megane, and this was nothing like it! To set a decent time I'd need a lot more practice. Everything is different between Megane and single-seater racing and I feel more comfortable in Megane."