Will Power showed that he will be a force to reckon with in this year's new-look World Series by Renault, after setting the pace on the opening day of testing at the high-tech Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France.
The two-day test is the teams' final chance to prepare ahead of the season-opener at Zolder next weekend, and Power only narrowly re-asserted Carlin Motorsport's position at the head of the field, as no fewer than 19 drivers were packed within a second of the Aussie's lap record-setting benchmark lap of 1min 14.909secs around the 3.841km 3C track solution.
“The new car has much more downforce, it's a completely different car!," Power commented, "We have improved on the best lap by the former Dallara Nissan cars by almost two seconds.”
The driver who set the previous record of 1min 16.7secs, Robert Kubica, was among a small minority not present for Tuesday's test, allowing Adrian Valles and Pastor Maldonado to offer the biggest challenge to Power. To emphasise just how close this season is shaping up to be, the three drivers were separated by just 0.02secs, with Maldonado at last showing glimpses of the talent that led to Minardi offering him a winter F1 test and DAMS snapping him up for the World Series.
Fourth-placed Simon Pagenaud was a couple of tenths further adrift, but continued to mark himself out as a threat for just about every circuit as he continues to impress in the best of the Saulnier Racing entries. American Colin Fleming rounded out the top five, attempting to emulate countryman - and former FRenault team-mate - Scott Speed's recent GP2 performance at the French circuit.
DAMS and Carlin both enjoyed successful tests, with their second drivers - Alx Danielsson and Andreas Zuber - both recording top ten times, ahead of Eurointernational's reigning FRV6 champion, Giorgio Mondini. The Italian squad headed a 'Latin Armada' of seven teams from the same country, leaving team boss happy with the progress being made.
“We have solved all our little problems and, even with used tyres, we were eighth overall," he explained, "I'm really happy about today's results.”
The 26 drivers present were able to complete over 8000km during seven hours of track time, and only 20 minutes were lost to rescue missions to collect cars either stranded on track or in the gravel. Among those in action outside the top ten was former Euro 3000 champion - now GT regular - Jaime Melo, who was testing with the Victory team, having signed a development contract with the Italian squad.
Also on track, but still a doubt for Zolder, was Parthiva Sureshwaren, who is reported to have budgetary problems and could yet be replaced in the GD racing line-up for the series opener.
Leading performances (19 April) - Paul Ricard:
Carlin 1min 14.909secs
Adrian Valles Pons 1min 14.927secs
Pastor Maldonado DAMS 1min 14.965secs
Simon Pagenaud Saulnier 1min 15.108secs
Colin Flaming Jenzer 1min 15.116secs
Alx Danielsson DAMS 1min 15.201secs
Andreas Zuber Carlin 1min 15.358secs
Giorgio Mondini EuroInternational 1min 15.454secs
Markus Winkelhock Draco 1min 15.458secs
Tristan Gommendy KTR 1min 15.590secs
Eric Salignon Cram 1min 15.597secs
Stefano Proetto Interwetten 1min 15.620secs
Christian Montanari Draco 1min 15.647secs
Damien Pasini Cram 1min 15.704secs
Daniel la Rosa Interwetten 1min 15.706secs
Patrick Pilet Jenzer 1min 15.718secs
Celso Miguez Pons 1min 15.729secs
Parthiva Sureshwaren GD 1min 15.737secs
Matteo Meneghello EuroInternational 1min 15.795secs
Ivan Bellarosa Avelon 1min 15.947secs
Enrico Toccacelo Victory 1min 15.966secs
Giovanni Tedeschi RC 1min 16.002secs
Jaap van Lagen KTR 1min 16.009secs
Tomas Kostka Victory 1min 16.162secs
Ryo Fukuda Saulnier 1min 16.382secs
Karun Chandhok RC 1min 16.793secs