SG Formula's Jean-Eric Vergne has thrown down the gauntlet to his World Series by Renault rivals by posting the fastest time of testing at Jerez, confirming his place among the pre-season frontrunners.
Four rookies again monopolised the top of the timesheets, with Nathanael Berthon (International Draco Racing) second, ahead of Stefano Coletti (Comtec Racing) and day one pacesetter Daniel Zampieri (Pons Racing).
Conditions were perfect for the second day of testing, with Vergne's potential being assessed by the arrival of GP2 racewinner Pastor Maldonado at SG. Brendon Hartley also flew back from F1 reserve duties in Bahrain to take up his regular WSbR seat at Tech 1 Racing with a busy programme to get through. Still handicapped by his hand injury, however, team-mate Daniel Ricciardo confined his testing to a short run during the morning session, primarily focused on finding the right driving position.
There were few preliminaries as the pit-lane opened for the first time, with all drivers out as soon as the green light came on and with new tyres the order of the day. However, early progress was interrupted as spins by Filip Salaquarda (ISR), Federico Leo (Pons Racing) and Maldonado. Although Leo was able to get back underway, Salaquarda and Maldonado suffered damage sufficient to end their day.
Battle for top spot was quickly joined by Zampieri, Berthon and Mikhail Aleshin, with Berthon lapping in 1min 29.525secs to take the upper hand and immediately better Zampieri's day one time. However, another Frenchman wanted some of the limelight and, after multiplying the number of runs he made on used tyres in the early part of the session, Vergne set out on new rubber an hour before the chequered flag, and was soon topping the timing screens, clocking an initial 1min 29.212secs best.
At exactly the same time, Greg Mansell climbed into fifth position, but any further progress was hampered as the session was interrupted once again, this time due to an oil leak from Keisuke Kunimoto's Epsilon Euskadi car. With track temperatures rising to 22°C as the morning drew to a close, the drivers eased up, waiting for the afternoon session and positions would remain the same.
With the ambient temperature still remarkably warm after lunch, the teams opted to work under race conditions in the afternoon. Vergne completed a race simulation of over 30 laps, allowing P1 Motorsport drivers Jan Charouz and Walter Grubmuller to occupy first and second places for most of the session.
“Since I first got behind the wheel of this car, I've been making progress constantly," Charouz noted, "It's nothing like an LMP1, so I need more time to be at 100 per cent. I'm here to learn this season - but I'd love to do something at home in Brno!”
However, in the last half hour, several drivers donned fresh tyres, with Hartley, Coletti and Sergio Canamasas (ISR) all taking turns on top of the timing charts. Upping his pace to log a 1min 29.584secs lap, Coletti then took the lead back, while fellow rookie Nelson Panciatici climbed into second, only to be pushed back again by Berthon and Anton Nebilitsky. However, just as he had in the morning, Vergne struck the killer blow right at the end of the session, claiming the best time of the two days.
“I did a race simulation this afternoon, and that was good, because it's been a while since I put so many laps together," the Frenchman commented, "In both sessions, I set my lap time with just one quick lap, so I've adapted well to the fresh tyres too. We just need to work on the light aerodynamic configuration and the pit-stops, and we'll be all ready to go.”