Marco Barba was the surprise name to emerge from the gloom on top of the timesheets following the first day of World Series by Renault free practice at Le Mans.

With the Bugatti-configuration of the French circuit returning to the calendar after its absence in 2007, several drivers took the time to learn their way around the track again. However, their efforts were hampered by intermittent rain.

Even so, most of the quick times came in the afternoon once the track had dried out with Draco Racing's Barba leading the way by a small margin from home favourite Charles Pic in the Tech 1 entry.

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Making the most of competing on a familiar circuit after racing at Le Mans with Jenzer Motorsport back in 2006, Barba was delighted to show his capabilities on a circuit where he has experience.

"This is the first time this season I've been familiar with the track. For once, I can get down to work from the off, without having to learn and understand a new circuit. It's only Thursday, but it is encouraging to start the weekend like this. Both our team's cars are on the pace, and that means we have every chance. It's a good sign."

Marco Bonanomi set the pace in the morning but slipped to third by the afternoon, although he was still ahead of 2008 race winners Bertrand Baguette and Salvador Duran.

Another French favourite, Alexandre Marsoin was sixth best for Epsilon Euskadi, ahead of champion-elect Giedo van der Garde. Marcos Martinez, Esteban Guerrieri and Nurburgring winner Miguel Molina rounded out the top ten.

Elsewhere, Sergey Afanasiev endured a tough opening day of competition ahead of his World Series debut with KTR. He was 26th and last, even if he was less than three seconds off the pace.