Filip Salaquarda completed the third and final day of group testing at Motorland Aragon by leading a large World Series by Renault contingent, but the talking point of the week was the form of rookie Jean-Eìric Vergne, who defied his lack of experience to remain the best performer of this week.
Having been given his first taste of a World Series car during day one's session for national Renault champions and other invited runners, Vergne returned to blow away the track record by finishing day two at the top of the charts, ahead of Mofaz Fortec Motorsport drivers Greg Mansell and Jon Lancaster.
Early morning fog delayed the start by an hour, before Mansell emerged to set the pace with his new team, defying a slightly damp surface to swap times with Antonio Felix da Costa, driving with Tech 1 Racing. The pair took several turns at the top of the times, although Lancaster was determined not to be left out.
As track conditions improved, times were soon being bettered lap after lap, with reigning Macau GP champion Keisuke Kunimoto (Epsilon Euskadi) showing a turn of speed and hogging first place for several minutes before Mansell muscled his way back to the top. Only then did Vergne decide that his time had come, taking fresh tyres and top spot with a lap of 1min 43.833secs, before going quicker still at the end of the session with a lap of 1min 43.366secs to remain ahead of Mansell, Kunimoto and Lancaster.
Much of the afternoon was punctuated by fierce competition between Lancaster and another impressive newcomer, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, the two British drivers swapping first place between them. Just behind, and clocking times before new rubber was fitted, da Costa and Vergne underlined their previous good form, while Steìphane Richelmi (Draco) and Walter Grubmuler (P1 Motorsport) emerged towards the end.
Typically, drivers waited for the last half-hour to to fit new tyres, and again it was Vergne who kept upping the pace. A 1min 43.230secs lap beat his own circuit record, and the Frenchman finished the day ahead of Mansell and Lancaster, with Quaife-Hobbs and Kunimoto rounding up the top five.
“We managed a very good time this morning, with fresh tyres, and then put newer tyres on later and went still better," Vergne commented, "We'd not changed anything on the car this afternoon, because the basic set-up was very effective, but, despite the traffic, I managed to get a quicker lap in. Physically, it really is more demanding than the two-litre Formula Renault car, and I'm very happy for the team. It shows the quality of their car and, for sure, I can't wait for next season!”
A mix of experienced drivers getting acquainted with new teams - such as Anton Nebilitskiy with Tech 1 Racing, Mansell and Lancaster with Mofaz Fortec or Salaquarda with RC Motorsport - and newcomers to the WSbR ranks was the theme of the day. Adrian Campos Jr drove with Draco, while Basil Shaaban (Prema Powerteam), Sergey Afanasiev (Carlin Motorsport), Roberto Merhi (Carlin Motorsport) and Jan Charouz (RC Motorsport) were also among those in action.
“The two days testing with Mofaz Fortec have gone very well," Mansell reported, "We've been very consistent and the performance has always been there. We put the new tyres on a bit too soon, and it's a shame, as I'd have liked to finish with the best time - and it was within our grasp.”