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Maldonado dominates Ricard test

26 March 2010

GP2 Series veteran Pastor Maldonado featured strongly throughout three days of pre-season testing at the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit, ending each at the top of the timesheets as the renamed Rapax team set out its stall for 2010.

Maldonado was quickest on the opening day as the sixth season of GP2 kicked off in France. Running on Ricard's 3D track configuration track, it proved to be a slow start as persistent drizzle made track conditions tricky for the drivers, and left the teams with no choice but to use wet tyres throughout the three-hour morning session. Only Trident newcomer Johnny Cecotto dared to venture out on slicks, although even he waited until the very final stages as the track got a little drier.

The young Venezuelan consequently ended up in top spot, two-and-a-half seconds clear of Coloni's Alberto Valerio, while five drivers chose to do only one installation lap - iSport pair Davide Valsecchi and Oliver Turvey, DPR's Michael Herck and Rapax team-mates Maldonado and Luiz Razia.

More clement weather greeted the field at the start of the afternoon session, but four red flags interrupted the flow. However, the dry track saw lap times improve significantly with all drivers on slick tyres. Maldonado, who was only confirmed as part of the Rapax line-up on the eve of the test, eventually claimed top spot in the last
ten minutes of the session, clocking in at 1min 12.987secs. The Venezuelan was closely followed by rookie Jules Bianchi (ART) and sophomore Giedo van der Garde (Barwa Addax).

Maldonado was again quickest on the second day, this time on the 2A configuration. The Venezuelan, who had hoped to be considered for an F1 ride with one of the newcomer teams, clocked a best lap of 1min 09.769secs to go a tenth quicker than Dani Clos, who had led the field for most of the day.

A trouble-free morning session started under clear blue skies and saw Racing Engineering sophomore Clos shine as he topped the timesheets in 1min 10.288secs, ahead of Maldonado, while Bianchi and fellow ART rookie Sam Bird confirmed the French team's good form by finishing third and fourth respectively. Christian Vietoris put the second Racing Engineering car in the top five, four-hundredths faster than Arden's Charles Pic.

Temperatures dropped slightly at the beginning of the afternoon session but, with 20 minutes left on the clock, Maldonado bettered Clos' morning time by half a second, even though the Spaniard also improved his personal best. They were the only two drivers able to lap the French track in less than 1min 10secs.

Already in the top ten this morning, Super Nova rookie Josef Kral finished with the third best performance of the day, ahead of iSport's Oliver Turvey and GP2 returnee Ho-Pin Tung at DAMS. The French squad put both their cars in the top ten along with Rapax, iSport and ART, but not before Super Nova's Marcus Ericsson lost control of his Super Nova car at the pit exit and could not complete any lap.

Maldonado completed his clean sweep by topping the timing sheet on day three in Le Castellet. He clocked a best lap of 1min 09.784sec during the final afternoon, but was being stalked by various rookies, including Bianchi, who claimed the morning's top spot just ahead of team-mate Bird. Running on track layout 2D, Oliver Turvey had initially come in third, but his times were later deleted after his iSport entry was found to be underweight, along with DAMS' Ho-Pin Tung. It was thus newcomer Christian Vietoris who ended up with the third best time of the session ahead of Maldonado.

Unable to complete one lap on day two following an unfortunate crash at the pit-lane exit, Marcus Ericsson ended up in fifth place ahead of Clos, Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Charles Pic, Sergio Perez and Valerio.

In the afternoon, despite being stopped by six red flags, the young guns kept showing their strong form. Kral dominated for most of the session, until Vietoris took control of the field with one hour left on the clock. At the same point, Maldonado moved up to P2, before the session was halted one last time owing to a collision between Ericsson and Adrian Zaugg 15 minutes before the end.

When the session was given the green light to resume, the remainder of the pack got back into action and saw Maldonado claim the top spot in the last two minutes, going one tenth quicker than Bianchi. Both men lapped the track in less than 1min 10secs, with Ocean's Fabio Leimer third ahead of Vietoris, Bird, Kral, Ericsson, Cecotto, Clos and van der Garde.

The GP2 paddock will gather again in two weeks' time in Barcelona for the final pre-season test on 7-9 April.


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