After setting the World Series by Renault lap record at the Motorland Aragon circuit back in October, Jean-Eric Vergne produced practically the same performance at the end of the first day of pre-season testing at the same venue.
The French SG Formula driver again led the way from Draco's Nathanael Berthon and Jan Charouz, who are gradually marking themselves out as men to watch alongside Vergne for 2010.
The morning session got off to a quick start, with Berthon soon on the pace. He went to the top of the timing screens and then improved on his provisional best time lap after lap. By mid-session, his 1min 43.818secs lap was good enough to keep him at the front of the pack, with Greg Mansell (Comtec Racing) and Mikhail Aleshin (Carlin Motorsport) giving chase in second and third respectively.
“I'm not physically on my best form, but what joy to work with Comtec Racing," Mansell commented, "It's the first time in my career that I'll have run two seasons in the same discipline, and it's an interesting experience. The level of competition is very high this year and consistency is going to be vital for success.”
While Berthon continued to chip away at his time, finally improving it to 1min 43.512secs, Federico Leo (Pons Racing) and Victor Garcia (KMP Racing) shook up the order immediately behind the Draco car. The two leaders then stayed where they were until the break, while halfway through the day, Walter Grubmuller (P1 Motorsport) eased ahead of Garcia, with Anton Nebylitskyi (KMP Racing) next up.
When the afternoon got underway, Keisuke Kunimoto (Epsilon Euskadi) and Vergne took command. As is often the case, drivers spent much of the afternoon practicing in race conditions, allowing Jon Lancaster and Vergne to climb to the top of the standings as the session entered its final hour.
With the ambient temperature falling a little, the teams got ready to fit new rubber, with Charouz the first out on fresh tyres. He moved into first place with a lap of 1min 43.905secs, but Vergne then rattled off a series of fastest laps. With times of 1min 43.524secs, 1min 43.377secs and 1min 43.235secs, the Frenchman found himself firmly in the driving seat while, behind him, the fight for second was between Nebylitskyi, Mansell, Leo and Charouz, who eventually won out.
“This morning we had a few problems that we sorted out and, as we did in Barcelona and Jerez, we have proven our performance level," Vergne reported, "It's perfect that we were quick on the three different circuits.”
The final two days of pre-season testing again saw some changes to the expected line-up, with Albert Costa (Epsilon Euskadi) absent and still suffering from the hand injury he sustained in Barcelona. Daniel Ricciardo (Tech 1 Racing) was on Red Bull F1 reserve duty in Melbourne and will be replaced by Leonardo Cordeiro and Claudio Cantelli, respectively the F3 SudAm champion and runner-up, who have both taken up the invitation from Red Bull Racing.
Team Interwetten.com Racing, which was absent from Barcelona and Jerez, complete the line-up with Euro F3 Open champion Bruno Mendez and Belgian driver Frederic Vervisch, while Sergio Canamasas teams up with SG Formula, and Lancaster, a race winner in last year's campaign, returning to the discipline with Fortec Motorsport.
“The World Series car is a very different car from what I've been used to up to now," Mendez commented, "It's more powerful than an F3 for instance, with really high performance carbon brakes. I haven't yet signed up, but I'm hoping to do so soon. After F3, I think it's a very logical step.”
The final day of testing will see all drivers running with the new light aerodynamic configuration.