Will Power remained unbeaten at the head of the World Series test times in Barcelona, his new, albeit unofficial, lap record for Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya providing the venerable Dallara-Nissans with an honourable path into retirement.

With an all-new Renault-powered WS car due online shortly, the Catalan test marked the end of an era for both the car and the 'old' series, which merges with the Formula Renault V6 championship for 2005. Four years on from its debut, the Dallara bowed out on a high, with series aspirant Power setting his record mark on the opening day of two in Spain.

In all, 23 drivers attended the test session in Barcelona, but few had anything to offer in terms of opposition to the Carlin-run Australian, who 'powered' his way to the fastest four-wheel lap yet recorded outside of Formula One at the grand prix venue. His 1min 28.774secs effort, clocked at an average speed of 187.6kph, remained unbeaten despite the best efforts of a changed cast on Thursday, although Felix Porteiro and impressive rookie Simon Pagenaud both provided stern examination.

The second day of testing started with light rain falling over the circuit, but the drivers were still able to improve their lap times as the sun came out and shone strongly in the early hours of the afternoon. Porteiro proved to be the fastest driver on the day, using his experience of both circuit and car to clock 1min 28.901secs, while Frenchman Pagenaud continued his sterling start to the pre-season by pushing his Saulnier Racing entry into the top three overall, just 0.063secs shy of Porteiro. The Spaniard, however, had not had it easy, and was quick to thank the help he had received from both the Epsilon Euskadi team and interim team-mate Robert Kubica.

"The car is simply perfect," Porteiro reported later, "My ideal lap is 1min 28.500secs, which means that we can be very competitive at this track.

"The team did some great work too, finishing the car at 4am after our problem with the gearbox yesterday. Robert is a great driver and a great help too. He is very funny, and we get along very well, as we know each other from karting."

Saulnier team boss Serge Saulnier was equally quick to praise his latest prot?g?, reckoning that Pagenaud will surprise people in the coming campaign.

"We are very impressed by Simon, as it was the first time that he had driven at this circuit," the Frenchman explained, "We have been working hard on the car and, with every run, you could see how Simon was feeling more confident. The same happened at Paul Ricard."

Saulnier added that he expected to be able to reveal the identity of his second driver next week, and the sensible money currently rests on former F3 Euroseries frontrunner Eric Salignon, who ran with Cram Competition in Spain after trying out with Saulnier at the weekend. The Frenchman also demonstrated his WS potential by setting the fourth best lap over the two days.

Pons Racing's strong return to the fray continued as Spanish driver Celso Miguez backed up Adrian Vall?s' performance from day one. Despite limited experience in the WS car, the F3 regular posted the fourth fastest time of day two, which was good enough for a top seven slot across the entire test.

For the former FRV6 teams and their drivers, the test provided a rare opportunity to learn about the car, on which the definitive 2005 model will be based. Draco's Markus Winkelhock proved to be the best of those mounted on unfamiliar machinery, claiming fifth on day two, but others struggled to keep pace with the former FNissan teams.

"It is obvious that we are not concentrating on times - this is not important for us," insisted Eurointernational team boss Enrico Ferrari, for whom reigning V6 champion Giorgio Mondini took 13th place, "Our drivers are trying to learn the car, and adapt it to their driving style, but, for sure, we are pretty confident about the 2005 season."

Giovanni Tedeschi (RC), Andreas Zuber (Carlin), Patrick Pilet (Jenzer), Christian Montanari (Draco) and Raffaele Giammaria (GD) rounded out the top ten, while Charles Zwolsman took eleventh on his first run with the Belgian KTR team. New Zealander Jonny Reid was another notable addition to the 'entry', the former Euro 3000 racewinner taking 15th spot during his spell with Draco.

The DAMS team, meanwhile, decided to leave the test on Wednesday night, after suffering a gearbox failure on its car. With only a limited number of WS cars having been made available to those teams not used to running them, and with a lack of spare parts proving problematic for many, the team reasoned that the gearbox could not be fixed in time for drivers Alx Danielsson and Pastor Maldonado to continue testing.

"We are really disappointed to leave Barcelona so early for such a reason, but what could we do - there are no spares available anywhere," team MD Eric Boullier commented, "This is really frustrating, but we will bear in mind the good performance we saw at Paul Ricard test and will now focus on the new World Series car, which will be in our workshop next week."

Leading performances (24 February) - Circuit de Catalunya:

Felix Porteiro Epsilon Euskadi 1min 28.901secs Simon Pagenaud Saulnier 1min 28.965secs Eric Salignon Cram 1min 29.114secs Celso Miguez Pons 1min 29.243secs Markus Winkelhock Draco Multiracing 1min 29.256secs Giovanni Tedeschi RC 1min 29.306secs Andreas Zuber Carlin 1min 29.430secs Patrick Pilet Jenzer 1min 29.453secs Christian Montanari Draco Multiracing 1min 29.472secs Raffaele Giammaria GD 1min 29.731secs Charles Zwolsman KTR 1min 30.035secs Stefano Proetto Interwetten 1min 30.040secs Giorgio Mondini Eurointernational 1min 30.050secs Colin Fleming Jenzer 1min 30.277secs Johnny Reid Draco Multiracing 1min 30.476secs Ivan Bellarosa Avelon 1min 32.558secs Ryo Fukuda Saulnier 1min 32.703secs


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