Having ended the era of the 'old' Formula Nissan and Formula Renault V6 championships with a record-breaking performance in Barcelona, the new Renault World Series kicked off its existence in similar fashion as Adrian Valles set the pace at Le Mans.
The Pons Racing driver established a new lap record for the French circuit on the second day of group testing with the series' all-new car, setting the benchmark at 1min 22.496secs to become the fastest man around the recently resurfaced 4.120km Bugatti circuit. However, with 13 of the 29 participants packed within a second of the pace, almost half the field could have set the new record.
During an exhausting red-flag festooned day, teams and drivers continued to adapt to the new car, with some still getting the feeling of the carbon brakes and gear-shift system. However, on the whole, the drivers reported the Dallara chassis to be both faster and more driveable than the former Formula Nissan machine used during winter testing..
Valles record came just over 24 hours after the new Renault World Series era had kicked off. At 0905hrs local time, 15 of the all-new 3.5-litre machines took to the track for the first time, series engineers having spent all of the previous day in the garages with technical staff from Renault Sport Technologies and other associated technical partners, fine-tuning the cars ahead of the test. Each team ran for the two days with a single car, ahead of a second chassis being delivered for the next test, in Valencia, later this month.
“The car is good and quick," confirmed DAMS managing director Eric Boullier, "Yesterday, we had to fix several problems, as usual for a brand new car, but today we had no reliability problem and this is really positive after only one day of testing. Everybody is really satisfied with the work done during these two days, and the technical crew and drivers have learnt a lot on the car.”
After the regulation installation laps, the drivers gradually started to discover the performance of the car, although the majority of teams used the opening day to check systems over a mix of long and short runs.
Although times were never a priority on day one, Germany's Markus Winkelhock, driving for Draco Multiracing USA, set the pace - and an unofficial lap record for the World Series at the Bugatti Circuit, lapping in 1min 23.247secs.
“I'm very glad about my best lap, as the team and I deserved this result," Winkelhock commented, "As [Draco team boss Adriano] Morini said, we didn't concentrate our attention on the time. In the morning, I got the feeling of the car and, in the afternoon, I worked on the set-up. I'm very motivated, we worked very hard and I like it.”
Behind Valles, who moves over the World Series from FNissan, Draco's second driver, Christian Montanari proved second quickest across the two days, with Felix Porteiro edging pre-season sensation Simon Pagenaud for third.
“I'm satisfied with my test, this car is exceptional," Montanari commented, echoing the sentiments of most of the field, "I'm sorry that I didn't set the best lap for the team but, on the second lap with new tyres, there were red flags... Nevertheless, I always stayed at the front, demonstrating that we are working very well. Now we have to analyse the data.”
Will Power, who had ended the FNissan era with a new lap record in Barcelona, clocked the seventh fastest time of the test, but Robert Kubica, who had set the pace at Paul Ricard and pushed the Australian hard in Spain, was only 19th.
Leading performances - Le Mans Bugatti (2-3 April):
Adrian Valles Pons 1min 22.496secs
Christian Montanari Draco 1min 22.659secs
Felix Porteiro Epsilon Euskadi 1min 22.851secs
Simon Pagenaud Saulnier 1min 22.905secs
Tristan Gommendy KTR 1min 22.944secs
Celso Miguez Pons 1min 22.989secs
Will Power Carlin 1min 23.035secs
Colin Fleming Jenzer 1min 23.091secs
Milos Pavlovic GD 1min 23.175secs
Pastor Maldonado DAMS 1min 23.179secs
Markus Winkelhock Draco 1min 23.247secs
Eric Salignon Cram 1min 23.381secs
Jaap van Lagen KTR 1min 23.509secs
Stefano Proetto Interwetten 1min 23.529secs
Enrico Toccacelo Victory 1min 23.596secs
Giorgio Mondini Eurointernational 1min 23.760secs
Giovanni Tedeschi RC 1min 23.776secs
Ryo Fukuda Saulnier 1min 23.809secs
Robert Kubica Epsilon Euskadi 1min 23.939secs
Daniel la Rosa Interwetten 1min 24.019secs
Andreas Zuber Carlin 1min 24.096secs
Patrick Pilet Jenzer 1min 24.455secs
Matteo Meneghello Eurointernational 1min 24.799secs
Damien Pasini Cram 1min 24.852secs
Alx Danielsson DAMS 1min 24.964secs
Tomas Kostka GD 1min 25.629secs
Karun Chandhok RC 1min 25.916secs
Ivan Bellarosa Avelon 1min 26.415secs
Parthiva Sureshwaren GD 1min 26.763secs