Soucek is a quick learner
Given that this was his first experience at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Andy Soucek (Interwetten.com) may well not have expected to record the best time in free practice. His time of 2'03''890 was not only today's fastest lap, but also the best this year on the famous Belgian track. The Spaniard may have squandered his hopes of a win this weekend after going off in the closing minutes of the session. The doctors fear that he has broken his wrist.
The thirty World Series Formula Renault 3.5 drivers had two 45-minute sessions to (re)discover the legendary Belgian circuit, a lot less time than they have before a normal World Series by Renault meeting. Consequently, the teams had to work hard and quickly to make adjustments to the car setup. The setup is very different to the one used on the narrow and uneven Misano circuit two weeks ago.
Recent additions at Tech 1 Racing and Cram Competition, Marco Bonanomi and Pasquale di Sabatino, got to meet their new teams for the first time today. At Eurointernational, car no. 23 previously driven by Enrico Toccacelo is now occupied by Milos Pavlovic who has moved from Cram.
Right from the word go, Pastor Maldonado beat the 2006 track record: the Venezuelan's time of 2'05''841 clearly demonstrated his determination to put the unhappy events of last weekend in Misano behind him. Although the Draco driver was alone in bettering the 2'06'' mark, the difference between the drivers remained slim with ten Formula Renault 3.5 separated by less than a second.
Halfway through the second session, Jaap Van Lagen (Comtec Racing) bettered Maldonado's time with a 2'05''791 lap. The session was suspended for a few minutes after both Davide Valsecchi (Epsilon Euskadi) and James Rossiter (Pons Racing) crashed off at the same time.
When the session resumed, most drivers decided to put on a new set of tyres. This brought the times down quite significantly. Pastor Maldonado put in a couple of quick laps, becoming the first to dip under the 2'04'' mark.
And then things went from bad to worse for Epsilon Euskadi. Steven Kane crashed into the tyre wall just before the end of the session. It's going to be a long night for the team mechanics.
In the closing minutes of the session, Andy Soucek snatched the best time from Maldonado by a mere fifteen thousandths, before then crashing off! He was taken to hospital, suffering from an injured wrist. The outcome of his weekend now depends on the results of medical tests.
The third-best time of Alvaro Barba (Jenzer Motorsport) was one of the day's pleasant surprises. But the differences between the drivers were even slimmer than in the first session, with fourteen drivers separated by less than a second. Gregory Franchi (Prema Powerteam), the only Belgian driver in this weekend's line-up, clocked the fifteenth best time.
Pastor Maldonado: "It's just been a great day. I had already raced on this circuit in 2004 in Formula Renault V6. We have a good setup and I was up near the top of the timing screens all day. But it's very tight."
Alvaro Barba: "I think that I've picked up some real momentum since Misano. I could have gone even quicker if I'd had a clear run through the final sector."
Alx Danielsson: "There was a lot of traffic out there. I don't know how it's possible on a seven kilometre circuit! We have a good car, but I need to turn my free practice form into podium finishes at the next four races to get back into the title race."