Carlin Motorsport rookie Daniel Ricciardo showed that he will be a driver to reckon with once the British F3 season kicks off in anger, defying his lack of circuit knowledge to claim an unofficial lap record on the first day of testing at Oulton Park.
After a wet start that restricted out-and-out pace, the Australian made the most of a gradually drying line to edge closer to the top of the times during the morning session, before blitzing the field on what turned out to be a dry and sunny afternoon, ending the day three-tenths quicker than his nearest rival, and close to 1.5secs under the existing track record as he clocked 1min 27.924secs in his unpainted Dallara-VW.
Ricciardo's closest challenge came not from within the Carlin team, or even from those who set the pace last time out at Snetterton, but from the unexpected form of Nick Tandy's Mercedes-powered JTR Mygale.
Despite having only his first outing of the year, the Briton was immediately into the groove, heading the morning timesheets by a quarter of a second and, despite dropping to second overall behind Ricciardo after lunch - the result of a minor off on fresh rubber while avoiding a slower car that was exiting the pits - he remained satisfied with his showing.
“It was a shame.” JTR team boss Joe Tandy admitted, “The new tyres were not fully up to temperature and there was definitely more time to come. But, for a first day, with the wheels having been bolted onto the car for the first time last night, we are very pleased indeed. The work that we and Mygale have done over the winter has obviously paid dividends and Nick is on top of his game straightaway.”
Tandy's performance denied Carlin a clean sweep of fastest times, with Max Chilton, Oliver Oakes and Henry Arundel massing behind the Mygale. Chilton and Oakes could not be separated on time, while Arundel proved that the British trio could be evenly-matched this season by lapping only fractionally slower.
Behind the top five, the times were a little more spread out, although T-Sport's Adriano Buzaid was only a tenth slower than Arundel, with Snetterton pacesetter Riki Christodoulou eighth, behind Hitech's Walter Grubmuller. Victor Garcia and Reigning FFord champion Wayne Boyd completed the top ten for Fortec and T-Sport respectively.
Daniel McKenzie topped the National Class runners in eleventh overall, comfortably out-pacing Victor Correa and Max Snegirev in his Fortec Dallara-Mugen.
Testing continues today [Wednesday].
Leading performances - Oulton Park (10 March)
CF Racing Dallara-Mugen
* denotes National Class