GP2 teams came to the end of a productive two-day testing session at the 4.428km Circuito de Jerez, as they start their development work for the GP2 Final in November and beyond as they look ahead to the 2012 championship.
Fabio Leimer especially enjoyed his opportunity in the Racing Engineering car, putting the cooler conditions on Thursday morning to good use by cutting his leading time on Wednesday by another half a second to 1:26.701s, the best time set by anyone this week.
"It was a very good day. Like yesterday we were quick straight away in the morning session," Leimer said. "We worked on different solutions today, which helped us to improve the lap times even further. I was really happy with the morning."
Later there was work of a different type to do as the team concentrated on its development programme: "In the afternoon we worked on long runs, taking advantage of the weather conditions to learn more about the behaviour of the tyres," he said, explaining why he was running four seconds slower for the final Jerez testing session.
Overall the president of Racing Engineering, Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon, couldn't have been happier with his star pupil. "I think it's been a very positive two days: not only did Fabio do a fantastic job in adapting to the team, but also the team in adapting to Fabio," he said. "Although we were going through our testing program for next season, Fabio has consistently been the quickest."
In the other Racing Engineering car, Rodolfo Gonzalez had made way overnight for the debut of British driver Rupert Svendsen-Cook, who had not previously raced anything more powerful than a F3 car. He concentrated on simply improving his time lap-by-lap throughout the day, and succeeded even when climbing temperatures were making the track slower and slower on Pirelli hard compound tyres.
"I think we really progressed during the test day and I improved my lap time each outing," said Svendsen-Cook. "Arriving at the test on the second day without knowing the car or circuit before, made it a great challenge."
"Even though he has had no experience with GP2 and it was his first time in Jerez, Rupert was doing a good job today at learning so much in such short time," confirmed de Orleans-Borbon.
Behind Leimer and Racing Engineering, Auto GP driver Fabio Onidi set the next-fastest time of the two day session with 1:26.843s on Thursday morning when Scuderia Coloni were concentrating on qualifying simulations, and he was surprised to be so fast so soon. "I knew I could be quick but being in front straight out of the box was amazing, beyond my expectations frankly speaking," he said. "All in all I discovered that I like the GP2 car a lot, it suits my driving style perfectly and that's very important, because it means that I can drive with a lot of confidence."
Kevin Ceccon's fifth place on the morning timesheets confirmed the overall strength of the Coloni car. "The fifth quickest time of the two days is a good result, and we could have been even quicker," he said. "Then in the afternoon, with a lot of fuel, we were ninth which is again very good, considering that we were the only ones in the top pack not using new tyres."
"All our three drivers managed to extract top performances from the car, confirming both their skills and the competitiveness of our technical package," said a happy Paolo Coloni.
In the afternoon session, Jules Bianchi put in the fastest time ahead of the two Trident Racing cars of Sam Bird and Julian Leal. After a season with iSport and experiencing the Rapax car during the first day of testing on Wednesday, Bird was replacing Josef Kral in the Trident on the second day and said that he was impressed by how much grip he got from the Trident car right from the start.
"I really got along very well with the team, and I also think they experienced a good relation with me," he said. "I've been impressed by several aspects today, and I can assure that if Trident Racing will find the right driver pairing, they'll definitely aiming to battle for the 2011 championship."
Leal got to spent two days in the Trident car, although the first day had been affected by engine and gearbox issues: "Today we finally managed to put everything together, we used our full potential with a really good feedback," he said, overall much happier with his Thursday at the office. "I'm sorry for having ended up spinning in the closing laps of the second session, because I had already gone down some tenths of a second in that lap but I just wanted more!"
A lot of eyes were focussed on the appearance at Caterham Team AirAsia of US driver Alexander Rossi, whom many have tipped for a title chance in the series. It's his first time in the new GP2/11 car and he admitted it was a big change from his recent racing experiences.
"It's been a big adjustment for me to get used to the GP2 car: to say it's different from a World Series car is an understatement, but once we'd figured out the balance it was good fun," he said. "These cars are quicker than World Series, so as a driver you got to love that!
"This afternoon was much better than this morning," he continued. "We are missing a little time but I think that it will come. I like this track, it's difficult on tyres especially in these hot conditions but at the end of the day we came out looking quite good and I am looking forward to the next test in Barcelona."
"Alexander is a very gifted driver and very professional," said the team's chief race engineer Humphrey Corbett. "[He] adapted to the new GP2 car and Pirelli tyres well. He was not afraid to go for it and in the end he was sixth which is very promising, especially as we didn't manage do our quickest times when the track was at its best."
Rossi was paired for the day with Team Lotus test driver Ricardo Teixeira, the Portuguese-Angolan who drove in GP2 in 2009 but who was quick to admit that GP2 had moved on a lot since then.
"It was really nice to get back into a car after a very long time, " he said. The tyres are quite difficult to get used to, they're quite different from two years ago when I raced in the GP2 Series, but it was fun. I managed to get some speed back which will help me in the Barcelona test for sure." And hopefully he'll be in a better physical state for the October tests: "Unfortunately I have a hand injury which was quite painful, but overall it was worth it to be back in the car and working with all the boys."
"We've had a good day, a good week in fact," summarised Corbett. "Ricardo was suffering with an old injury to his hand, but he did put in a very solid day of running despite that. Unfortunately a red light came on when he was starting his best lap, so through no fault of his own he didn't get the best out of his new tyres. I have been very impressed with him though, he did some useful tyres test for us and hasn't put a foot wrong."
There is another two-day test session scheduled in Barcelona on 19-20 October ahead of the GP2 Final, which will support the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi on 11-13 November.
Full day 1 times
Full day 2 times
Driver quotes from day 1