As the chequered flag dropped on the final pre-season GP3 Series test in Barcelona, a last minute push from MW Arden's Michael Christensen snatched a top spot that appeared firmly in the grasp of ART Grand Prix.
Up to that point, the two-day session had been dominated by Esteban Gutierrez, but the final session threw up a few changes at the top, with Dane Christensen posting the quickest time of the afternoon in 1min 37.716secs, just five hundredths of a second ahead of Mexican Gutierrez.
“It's obviously really positive for us to finish the last test so competitively, especially as the first event is back here so shortly," MW Arden team manager Julian Rouse noted, "ART have been so competitive, so it feels good to finally go quicker than them at a circuit on the GP3 calendar.”
Continuing his strong run in third spot was Renger van der Zande for RSC Mucke Motorsport, with a time of 1min 37.913secs just good enough to fend off Carlin driver Dean Smith, while the second MW Arden car of Miki Monras rounded out the top five just 0.008secs behind the Briton. In all, eight different teams filled the top ten places, with Status GP's Daniel Morad finishing sixth, followed by Pal Varhaug (Jenzer Motorsport), Morad's team-mate Robert Wickens, James Jakes (Manor) and surprise package Ollie Oakes, who put in a stellar performance to take Atech CRS GP's first top ten finish.
“I'm very happy with the testing we have completed this spring," Trevor Carlin confirmed, "We've have three new eager drivers in the team who have done plenty of mileage to get to grips with the car, and have been steadily improving lap by lap. Although Dean has been setting the bench mark for the other drivers in Barcelona, everyone is progressing, and we now have a good bank of data to compare. As a team, we still have a lot to learn to get the best out of the cars, but we are finding them responsive to change and easy for the teams and drivers to work with. Barcelona in three weeks time is going to be very exciting to watch.”
The previous three sessions had been the domain of Gutierrez and ART, who were immediately on the pace once the team finally ventured out onto a damp Circuit de Catalunya.
Overnight rain and temperatures hovering around 14 degrees meant that the track was slow to dry, and it was Morad who was first to brave the conditions. For the next three hours, a total of 414 laps were completed, although the session was marred by a number of red flags as the young drivers adjusted to their first damp GP3 Series test.
ART were one of the last teams to take to the track but it didn't stop them picking up from where they left off in Le Castellet two weeks ago. This time it was Gutierrez who posted the top time, his 1min 37.850secs effort seven-tenths quicker than second placed van der Zande and nearly one second quicker than team-mate Alexander Rossi in third.
After topping the time sheets in Le Castellet two weeks ago, Nigel Melker continued his good form in fourth spot, closely followed by new Carlin signing Smith and an impressive drive from Tech 1 Racing's Doru Sechelariu,with Christensen, Jakes and Pablo Sanchez Lopez (Addax) next up.