Charles Pic produced the fastest time of three days of World Series by Renault testing at the hi-tech Paul Ricard circuit, but blotted his copybook by crashing while going for a faster time in his Tech 1 entry.
The Frenchman, who finished his rookie season in the series with two wins, had been at the sharp end of the timesheets on the two preceding days, but sealed top spot with a 1min 15.998secs effort in the closing moments of Friday's final session. Pic was followed by Epsilon Euskadi team-mates Miguel Molina and Roberto Merhi, both having shown convincing form over the three days, although James Walker's 1min 16.100secs lap from the morning would have split the latter pair on a combined list.
Wet tyres were the order of the day early on, and newcomers Adam Christodoulou (Fortec), Renger van der Zande (Prema) and Harald Schlegelmilch (Comtec) were among the first to get going. Once the drivers swapped their wets for slicks, however, the times improved rapidly. Walker, running with the P1 Motorsport team that took Giedo van der Garde to this year's title, took the initial lead, before team-mate Walter Grubmuller clocked a faster time.
"The car is really good on the slow bends, but it's on the fast bends that it's at its most impressive," FRenault UK champion Christodoulou commented, "You really feel it physically. I was getting to know the car and the circuit today, whereas the others have been here for a few days already, but I got faster and faster as the day went on, which was my aim."
The track was still not at its quickest, however, and a further round of improvements would not be long in coming. In successive laps, first F3 Euroseries racewinner van der Zande, then Molina, snatched the lead.
Things really got going as the end of the session approached, as new British F3 champion Jaime Alguersuari (Tech 1) moved out in front, before Marco Barba (Draco) went top with a time of 1min 16.575secs. The dying minutes would prove crucial, however. as Walker retook the lead and saw his time stick, making him the first driver to beat the mark Epsilon Euskadi's Dani Clos set on Wednesday afternoon. Molina, Barba, Pic and surprise package Greg Mansell completed the top five
"We put on fresh tyres just before the break, which turned out to be a good idea as the rain then came," Walker reported, "This was a good performance and follows on from my strong finish to the 2008 season. I'll definitely be competing in World Series next year - I just have to choose a team."
Mansell is rumoured to have signed with Ultimate-Signature, and was delighted with his performance on the final morning.
"These three days have been a great experience, even though I've been ill since I got here so I haven't been at 100 per cent, " he commented, "It's a very professional championship and there's a really nice atmosphere. I'm comfortable driving the car, and we're going to make a decision very soon, but it's certainly an interesting option for 2009."
The early part of the afternoon was somewhat spoiled by a passing shower, but the track gradually dried out and all drivers had the chance to try a fresh set of tyres at the end of the day. In that time, Molina appeared to have clocked the fastest time of the week, at 1min 16.071secs, putting him back ahead of the impressive Merhi.
Neither had counted on Pic pushing right to the end, however, and in the dying moments of the session, the Frenchman went after Molina's time, propelling himself into first position with the only lap to drop into the 1min 15s. Still pushing hard, however, Pic proved a little too optimistic on his last flying lap and ended up hitting the wall and damaging the right front corner of the Tech 1 car.
WSbR testing times (7 November) - Paul Ricard:
Charles Pic Tech 1 1m 15.998s 38 laps
Miguel Molina Epsilon Euskadi 1m 16.071s 34
Roberto Merhi Epsilon Euskadi 1m 16.127s 45
James Walker P1 1m 16.251s 18
Marco Barba Draco 1m 16.318s 18
Jaime Alguersuari Tech 1 1m 16.562s 35
Oliver Turvey Carlin 1m 16.659s 39
Walter Grubmuller P1 1m 16.783s 28
Alexandre Marsoin Comtec 1m 16.823s 36
Renger van der Zande Prema 1m 16.870s 46
Greg Mansell Ultimate-Signature 1m 17.021s 35
Adam Christodoulou Fortec 1m 17.101s 49
Jake Rosenzweig Fortec 1m 17.316s 45
Claudio Cantelli Prema 1m 17.411s 41
Pasquale di Sabatino RC 1m 17.414 50
Joanne Joakinen Draco 1m 17.435s 60
Siso Cunill KTR 1m 17.529s 44
Rodolfo Gonzalez Ultimate-Signature 1m 17.671s 38
Anton Nebylitskiy Pons 1m 17.765s 41
Harald Schlegelmilch Comtec 1m 18.056s 31
Federico Leo Pons 1m 18.967s 51
Sten Pentus KTR no times 1
James Walker P1 1m 16.100s 42
Miguel Molina Epsilon Euskadi 1m 16.157s 60
Marco Barba Draco 1m 16.215s 58
Charles Pic Tech 1 1m 16.313s 37
Greg Mansell Ultimate-Signature 1m 16.325s 57
Alexandre Marsoin Comtec 1m 16.450s 41
Jaime Alguersuari Tech 1 1m 16.664s 37
Harald Schlegelmilch Comtec 1m 16.956s 45
Renger van der Zande Prema 1m 17.046s 57
Walter Grubmuller P1 1m 17.110s 59
Claudio Cantelli Prema 1m 17.161s 58
Omar Leal Draco 1m 17.304s 64
Jake Rosenzweig Fortec 1m 17.308s 44
Roberto Merhi Epsilon Euskadi 1m 17.343s 54
Anton Nebylitskiy Pons 1m 17.392s 55
Siso Cunill KTR 1m 17.461s 43
Pasquale di Sabatino RC 1m 17.569s 55
Adam Christodoulou Fortec 1m 17.846s 67
Oliver Turvey Carlin 1m 17.906s 33
Rodolfo Gonzalez Ultimate-Signature 1m 18.181s 53
Federico Leo Pons 1m 18.401s 62
Geoffrey Kwong RC 1m 19.696s 75
Sten Pentus KTR 1m 32.171s 9