Mikhail Aleshin and Robert Wickens head to Italy for this weekend's opening World Series by Renault round hoping to repeat their pre-season test pace when racing gets underway at the historic Monza circuit on Saturday.
Having topped the timesheets at the final pre-season test in Barcelona, Canadian Wickens makes his debut at Monza on top form. The 19-year old will only be taking part in his third World Series event this weekend, having raced with Carlin at the final two rounds of the season last year, but has shown enough to be listed among the favourites for the title.
“It's good to finish the last pre-season test quickest," he admitted, "We've developed the car as I like it, so I'm confident ahead of the first race. I'm pleased with how the test went. We made some good progress with our test programme and I think we have a good set-up as my engineer and I made some good steps forward. I don't think that missing the final session [to head to China to race for Team Canada in A1GP] hurt us at all.
I haven't been to Monza before, but I'm used to learning new circuits quickly and we have quite a lot of track time before the qualifying sessions. I'm excited that the season is finally getting underway - the new car is good and I think this weekend will show which teams have got to grips with it. I'm confident that both Carlin cars will be consistently quick and we should be aiming for podiums, if not a win."
Team-mate Aleshin heads to Monza having won at the circuit last year, the 20-year Russian dominating proceedings to take pole position and lead from start to finish. On the pace with the new 2008-spec Dallara, Aleshin returns to Italy in confident mood.
“Our testing has been encouraging over the winter," he confirmed, "We found out a lot of things about the car at the last test at Barcelona, and I think that will help us over the course of the season. The new car has been great so far - it feels a little different, especially as the aerodynamic changes have made a difference in the high-speed corners, but we know we have a strong set-up and can be quick. It feels good to be going back to the circuit where I won last year but, realistically, we need to be aiming for a victory again this year.”
“The World Series is always a very competitive championship and pre-season testing has shown that there are a number of teams and drivers on the pace," team principal Trevor Carlin noted, "Both Robert and Mikhail have been strong in testing and, of course, Mikhail won at Monza last year, which will give him an extra boost ahead of the weekend.
"Consistency will be the key to strong season, so it will be important to get a good result at Monza. The three-day test [in Barcelona] was extremely useful for the team, especially following the limited running we had with the weather conditions in Valencia. Barcelona is a key circuit in terms of set-up and a good indication of general pace at a number of circuits on the World Series calendar. As a team, I think we are looking strong for the season opener."