As has become the norm this pre-season, Charles Pic led the way on the opening day of a World Series by Renault group test, as the growing band of hopefuls took to the track at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
Pic didn't have things all his own way, as P1 Motorsport's James Walker went quickest in the morning session, but the Tech 1-mounted Frenchman hit top form towards the end of the afternoon session in time to grab the day's best lap.
The majority of drivers headed straight onto the track as soon as the pit-lane opened, with Miguel Molina (USR) taking the early initiative. Walker, however, upped the pace at the end of the first hour, grabbing the lead with a time of 1min 33.123secs as most put together long series of runs at the start of the session, among them Greg Mansell, who racked up 56 laps in the morning alone.
With the help of fresh tyres, Epsilon Euskadi's Adrian Valles dislodged Walker from top spot, but the Briton - and Molina - wasted no time in responding. With a lap timed at 1min 32.510secs, the P1 driver moved back ahead of the Catalan, although he was only five-thousandths quicker. Valles was third, ahead of Pic and Marcos Martinez (Pons Racing).
"I really like this track," Walker admitted, "We used our new tyres this morning, and I set the best time without holding any of the best intermediate times so there was definitely some room for improvement."
In the afternoon, Draco's Bertrand Baguette, the first to fit fresh tyres, set the ball rolling, jumping to the top of the times ahead of Fairuz Fauzy (Mofaz Fortec Motorsport). Others were quick to set fast times of their own, with Carlin's Oliver Turvey the first to go quicker, while Martinez then shot to the top of the screens with an hour of track time left, and resetting the benchmark to 1min 32.619secs.
There were new tyres galore fitted in the last half hour, with Pic acknowledging that fresh rubber has helped him take the lead. The Renault Driver Development driver then headed into the pits for a few adjustments to the set-up and went back out with another new set, improving further on successive laps to lower the target to 1min 32.217secs and then 1min 32.085secs, ending the afternoon ahead of Draco's Marco Barba, Turvey, Martinez and Baguette.
"We worked really hard this morning," the Frenchman reported, "and, at the start of the afternoon, we improved another two or three things. With my first set of fresh tyres, things were pretty good, but then we adjusted the balance of the car. It's good to be right up there in each session, and I just can't wait for the season to start."
Several drivers joined the line-up for what is scheduled to be the last two days of group testing before the season gets underway for real, with Russian Daniil Move confirmed alongside Pic at Tech 1 and Interwetten Racing handing a drive to Frenchman Franck Perera, whilst Tobias Hegewald shared the Austrian team's other car with Romanian Mihai Marinescu..
Elsewhere, FRenault UK frontrunner Riki Christodoulou returned with Comtec Racing while, after missing testing in Jerez and Valencia, RC Motorsport was back in action with one car, entrusted to Pasquale Di Sabatino, and Frankie Provenzano hooked up once more with Prema Powerteam to complete the 22 cars on track.
Leading performances - Barcelona (30 March):
Charles Pic Tech 1 1m 32.085s
Marco Barba Draco 1m 32.502s
James Walker P1 1m 32.510s
Miguel Molina USR 1m 32.515s
Marcos Martinez Pons 1m 32.619s
Oliver Turvey Carlin 1m 32.619s
Adrian Valles Epsilon Euskadi 1m 32.833s
Bertrand Baguette Draco 1m 32.833s
Jaime Alguersuari Carlin 1m 33.004s
Riki Christodoulou Comtec 1m 33.084s
Franck Perera Interwetten 1m 33.170s
Fairuz Fauzy Fortec 1m 33.233s
Pasquale di Sabatino RC 1m 33.264s
Greg Mansell USR 1m 33.506s
Chris van der Drift Epsilon Euskadi 1m 33.556s
Anton Nebylitskiy Comtec 1m 33.649s
Federico Leo Pons 1m 33.757s
Sten Pentus Fortec 1m 33.874s
Frankie Provenzano Prema 1m 33.924s
Tobias Hegewald Interwetten 1m 34.109s
Julian Leal Prema 1m 34.162s
Daniil Move Tech 1 1m 34.521s