Davide Valsecchi and Jules Bianchi proved quickest in the first forays into GP2 Series winter testing, taking one session apiece on the opening day at Jerez.
As usual, the paddock welcomed a rash of new names and faces for the three-day session, with a total of ten newcomers entered on the opening day alone, but it was comparative old hand Valsecchi who showed them the way on a dry track and under blue skies in the morning session, as he stopped the clocks at 1min 26.408secs during a new tyre run at the wheel of Party Poker Racing.com Scuderia Coloni Dallara.
The effort was three tenths faster than Roldan Rodriguez's best for Fat Burner Racing Engineering, while newcomer Bianchi completed the top three for ART Grand Prix, which he currently leads the F3 Euroseries. Local team Racing Engineering enjoyed a good session, with Diego Nunes fourth fastest, ahead of Jerome d'Ambrosio - slated to drive one of Alfonso d'Orleans' cars later in the week - and the best of the iSport entries.
The session was briefly red-flagged twice when another newcomer, Max Chilton, ran off track in the last corner and broke the front wing on his Barwa Addax machine early in the session. Fellow rookie Oliver Turvey later stopped out on track with eight minutes to run before the chequered flag.
"!I would have liked to be first on the timesheets, of course, but I think, even like this, it was very positive," Rodriguez commented, "We know that, in a test with many rookies, you have many red flags and slow cars on track, but we know we could have been on top and this is what counts."
As temperatures rose in the afternoon, it was Frenchman Bianchi who posted the quickest lap, defying his rookie status - and ART's focus on an all-new roster - to clock 1min 26.919secs and deny d'Ambrosio by two hundredths of a second. Nunes completed the top three, ahead of Rodriguez and Bianchi's F3 rival, Christian Vietoris, who partnered Chilton at Addax for the day.
"We had a good day, although the morning was not so great," Nunes reported, "We tested some different things on Roldán's and my car, but I was still quick and finished in fourth. In the afternoon, we put everything together for the new set of tyres, but didn't do so many laps as we didn't have any new tyres left. It's a shame I did not finished first, but that was not the most important thing. We worked on getting to know each other and I think things went well. There were no problems or issues and it was a good test."
The rookie complement was completed by FMaster race winners Alexander Rossi and Josef Kral, F2's Philip Eng, Bianchi's F3 Euroseries team-mate Esteban Gutierrez and fellow F3 runners Edoardo Piscopo, Francesco Castellacci and Victor Garcia.
Once again, the afternoon session was red-flagged, first as Rodolfo Gonzalez spun his Telmex Arden car at the chicane, and then twice more, courtesy of Trident runner Piscopo, notably with 20 minutes left on the clock, as the Italian lost control of his machine in the last corner and ran into the tyre wall. Damage to the barrier prevented the session from restarting before the chequered flag appeared.
“As prescribed by the rules, I started the test on new tyres, which I couldnt handle well due to my lack of experience," Piscopo commented, "I'm ashamed of not having tried the new tyres in the afternoon, but I could do nothing to avoid a tough crash.
"Due to a brake failure, I ended up hard into the barriers at the last corner before the front straight. The wreck was pretty big, I feel a bit shaken, and my elbows ache, but I hope to be fit enough to rejoin [the test on] Thursday. The car is totally awesome, the best one I have driven after F1, and you know immediately that you're just one step away from there. I was really impressed with the overall quality of drivers, and I realised you can really elevate yourself by doing well here.”