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Teams look ahead to first race in Sepang

9 March 2012

The start of the 2012 GP2 season is fast approaching, with the first practice session at Sepang in Malaysia less than two weeks away. The teams have now benefited from two blocks of testing at Jerez and Barcelona in Spain, but now the real moment is truth is very nearly upon them all.

"Obviously you don't get championship points from training," agreed Lotus GP's Esteban Gutiérrez, who topped the timesheets on two of the three days at Barcelona this week. "But this is a good reference point ... Honestly, this has been very positive for us."

Gutiérrez - who will be in Melbourne next week as BMW Sauber F1's reserve driver - said that the tests had highlighted the areas that still needed improvement.

"We have to work a little more on the race format to improve tyre degradation," he admitted. "We have to keep working if we want to be consistent in every single event."

DAMS might not have dominated the timesheets as they did at Jerez, but they were still pretty happy with their three days in Barcelona.

“Overall, the second week of pre-season testing has gone off pretty well," insisted the team's general manager François Sicard. "It's confirmed the excellent job we did at Jerez ... Davide again showed that he's ready to fight for the title and Felipe made a big step forward, especially on the final day. We can't wait for the season to begin!"

"It's another good week's work," agreed lead driver Davide Valsecchi. "Now the hardest thing is waiting for the first race!”

British Formula 3 champion Felipe Nasr was also feeling buoyed up by how things had gone this week. "I'm feeling pretty happy after the second week," he said. "I was able to learn new things about the car and its handling even if the time was short."

So how's he feeling about his GP2 Series début in the heat of Sepang in a fortnight? "I know that the opening races will be a big challenge for me," he admitted. "But I've got absolute confidence in the team and in myself to improve rapidly and to be fighting at the front very soon.”

Caterham Racing are another team expecting to perform well at Sepang, especially having signed up experienced GP2 competitor Giedo van der Garde to help them get up to speed.

"For sure I am going into Malaysia confident," he said. "Of course it is a different story at a race weekend with only half an hour practice, but I have driven there once before and it's quite a nice track. It'll be very hot, but I am ready, let's get it on."

Technical director Humphrey Corbett was a little more cautious in his reading of the pre-season testing. "It is so hard to tell what people are doing with fuel and tyres during testing, so I think Malaysia will be a great leveller. Both drivers know the circuit and I am really looking forward to getting out there!"

Over at iSport, team principal Paul Jackson said that he and his team were looking forward to the first race at Sepang with guarded optimism.

"The team have had a good test in Barcelona and worked through a comprehensive programme, trying many options and understanding the tyre characteristics," he went on. "Both drivers had some impressive race simulations and have worked well together and are proving to be closely matched."

Although Jolyon Palmer and Marcus Ericsson didn't pick up any fastest times during the six days of testing in total, they both proved competitive on pace throughout and generally one or both of the drivers was to be found in the top ten by the end of a session.

Scuderia Coloni could say much the same of their own driver line-up, consisting of Stefano Coletti and Fabio Onidi.

"We leave Barcelona with the feeling that we really did a good job, trying many different things and getting the answers we were expecting in most of the cases," said team boss Paolo Coloni. "Looking at the six days of testing we did here and in Jerez, we were always in the high part of the timesheets."

From the point of view of the driver's seat, Coletti said that he too was happy with what they'd achieved, especially after setting the second fastest time on the final afternoon when concentrating on race distance set-ups and simulations. "We did not specifically seek the performance but I am happy anyway on setting the second fastest time," he said.

"We completed the scheduled work without problems; data and results confirmed what was already seen last week in Jerez," he continued. "Overall, the six pre-championship testing days have been really fruitful and allowed us to lay the foundations of a good result in Malaysia in two weeks time."

Racing Engineering similarly said that their drivers, Fabio Leimer and Nathanaël Berthon, were similarly focused on gathering data that would be analysed in depth before Sepang, rather than about going after fastest times.

"We didn't simulate qualifying when the track here was at its quickest, as the others did," pointed out Berthon. "We waited for the track to be as hot as possible. For sure we still need a bit more performance, but I think it will be okay in Malaysia."

The team's sporting director Thomas Couyotopoulo agreed: "The low air and track temperature are conditions quite far from what we have during normal race weekends, which is taken into consideration when preparing for Sepang," he said. "It will be an interesting season and we will work hard to fight for the top spots this year."

"Everything we wanted to look at, we were able to do," insisted Leimer. "As in Jerez, we gathered a lot of information that will prove helpful in the future. Now we have to proceed with the analysis of the information obtained, but I have a positive feeling for the start of the season in Sepang."

Tyre supplier Pirelli also expressed their satisfaction with the way the testing had gone with all the teams, ahead of their second year servicing the GP2 Series.

"The GP2 drivers are happy with the tyres and the wear rate is what we were after with the new hard compound, which is lasting around five laps longer than the medium compound," said Pirelli's racing manager Mario Isola. "The drivers reported that the medium tyre gave good grip and balance, while the harder tyre was a bit more consistent over a longer stint: which was exactly what we were expecting to see."

Spain had proved unexpected chilly for the time of year, and Isola conceded that this had impacted the test results somewhat. "As we saw at the first F1 tests, higher temperatures would have helped us produce more conclusive results," he agreed.

But overall, he was happy that Pirelli were succeeding with their ambitions for making GP2 an even more representative feeder series to F1 than it already was.

"Our aim in GP2 this year is to make it even more relevant to Formula One by mirroring the philosophy we adopt at the highest level of motorsport," he said. "Producing fast-wearing and exciting tyres that encourage overtaking and actively add to the spectacle of the race, both in terms of on-track action and pit stop strategy."


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