Japanese driver Daisuke Nakajima set the pace in Wednesday's British F3 test on the new Silverstone Arena Grand Prix circuit, which is set to get its race christening from the Cooper Tires-backed series next weekend (1-2 May).

The Raikkonen Robertson racer lapped the Northamptonshire track a tenth quicker than his nearest rival, championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne, with times coming down throughout the day as drivers got used to the new layout.

Frenchman Vergne was the first of the pack to break the 1min 54secs barrier for the 3.67-mile track, leading the way in the second of the day's sessions after Carlin team-mate James Calado had set the early pace. However, the times tumbled in the third and final test, with Nakajima, Calado and Hitech Racing's Will Buller joining Vergne in the 1min 53secs bracket, and less than a second covering the top eight.

Nakajima has strong Silverstone form - he was second on the old GP circuit last year after leading from the pole - and showed strong pace in the opening rounds of the 2010 championship, at Oulton Park at the beginning of the month, where he was beaten to his maiden British F3 win by half a second.

Calado, Buller and Carlin's Lucas Foresti completed the top five, but one of the stars of the day was T-Sport's National class driver Menasheh Idafar, who not only set a time 2.5secs quicker than sole class rival, team-mate James Cole, but also sped to sixth overall on the timesheets.

Starting the day with a time of 1min 55.857secs, the 19-year-old improved by six-tenths in session two to wind up with a lap of 1min 55.245secs. He ran as high as third place at one point in session three, before he was pushed back by improvements elsewhere, but completed the fewest laps of any of the drivers.

"I'm really happy with today's performance, the whole test went well and to finish the last session in the top six overall was really good," said the British-born Bahraini, "It was important to have a good test before the Silverstone races, but to be as strong as we have today was great. It was good to drive the new Arena track for the first time, I like it and I hope we can have some success there."

The new circuit has found favour with the drivers, with Carlin's Adriano Buzaid - despite only being 14th fastest - saying that he believed the new sections of track would help promote overtaking, and Calado adding that "it's nice to have a change, very fast, very flowing and smooth - apart from one horrible bump at the exit of turn eight, which upset a lot of cars."

Calado's Volkswagen-powered Carlin team heads for Silverstone riding high in the championship thanks to a clean sweep of race victories in the opening rounds. Vergne put in impressive performances in rounds one and three to win and steal an early championship lead, while young British rookie Rupert Svendsen-Cook pulled some clever moves to take a well-deserved win in round two.

Vergne is bidding to follow in the wheeltracks of fellow Red Bull Junior Team members Jaime Alguersuari and Daniel Ricciardo and race off with Carlin's third British F3 title in as many seasons.

Leading the charge from the rival teams, 17 points behind Vergne, is Fortec's impressive Oliver Webb, who was a solid runner-up to Vergne in rounds one and three, but was outpaced at the test by team-mate Daniel McKenzie.

There will be a number of drivers at Silverstone hoping to put shaky seasonal starts behind them, not least Racing Steps Foundation-backed man Calado, who suffered car trouble in qualifying at Oulton which blighted his weekend. Another Brit, the 2008 British F3 National champion Jay Bridger, showed top-five pace in qualifying in his Litespeed-prepared Dallara, but went off in race one while holding a safe seventh.

Hitech Racing took comfort from promising showings for Buller and for his team-mate Gabriel Dias at Oulton, the Brazilian bouncing back from adversity to take fourth place in round three.

T-Sport have a one-two stranglehold on the National Class thanks to class victories at Oulton for Idafar and Cole, while the squad's sole International runner, Alex Brundle, is enjoying a solid start to his F3 career.

There's no shortage of British talent on the grid this season, with CF Racing with Manor's talented Welsh driver Hywel Lloyd looking to overcome his embarrassing faux pas at Oulton, and the contingent will be swelled by the arrival of Euroseries regular Alexander Sims, who, along with two of his colleagues from France's ART Grand Prix team - Mexican Esteban Gutierrez and French driver Jim Pla - will be taking chance to measure his pace against the team's British F3 rivals.


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