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Carlos Sainz Jr sat top of the overall time sheets as the first Friday sessions of the new Formula Renault 3.5 season got under way in Monza.

The Red Bull junior dominated the morning session with defending champions, DAMS and improved to fight off tough opposition.

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Luca Ghiotto was closest to dethroning the Spaniard after he jumped to a surprise second place in the latter stages of the afternoon running. International Draco Racing's latest signing was the fastest rookie around his home circuit and sat just one tenth-of-a-second behind the leader.

Jazeman Jaafar improved in the afternoon to place third overall for his new team, ISR. The Malaysian sustained the pace he showed in pre-season testing to gain another top three-finish. He was closely followed by a fast-finishing Pietro Fantin in the second International Draco Racing model. Despite an inconsistent 2013, the Brazilian showed quick one-lap pace to sit fourth fastest.

Long time leader of the afternoon session, Nikolay Martsenko dropped from first to fifth in the latter stages. The Russian, who is the sole representative for Comtec Racing this weekend, was pushed in the final few minutes by 2013 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion, Pierre Gasly.

Meanwhile, Marco Sorensen, Will Buller, Norman Nato and Sergey Sirotkin completed the top ten. Sirotkin, who was testing in Bahrain earlier this week with the Sauber F1 team, has moved from ISR to Fortec Motorsports in 2014. His team mate, Oliver Rowland sat seventeenth fastest.

Zoel Amberg, one of the most experienced drivers on track, was forced to settle for nineteenth fastest in his AV Formula, despite showing good early morning pace. This weekend will see the Swiss driver compete with AV Formula for the first time, following a move from Pons Racing earlier this year.

A cash-strapped Carlin were notably absent from the practice session but hope to rejoin the championship later in the season. The first qualifying session of the year takes place on Saturday morning followed by the afternoon race. DAMS return as defending champions with Sainz Jr and Norman Nato at the helm.