The first day of the second GP3 pre-season test of 2015 saw an impressive showing for ART, with Marvin Kirchhöfer posting the best time of anyone with a lap of 1:21.098s on the 2.517-mile, 14-turn circuit on Thursday afternoon, and Kirchhöfer and his team mate Esteban Ocon both finishing in the top three in the day's two three-hour track sessions.
CLICK: Full times from day 1 of GP3 pre-season testing at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
Chilly and cloudy conditions first thing in the morning saw Campos Racing's Alex Palou set the early pace with a lap of 1:22.792s in the first hour, two seconds faster than his team mate Zaid Ashkanani and Arden's Aleksander Bosak as the only drivers to have set competitive times while everyone else saved their medium compound Pirelli tyres for warmer and sunnier conditions to arrive, with each driver only having fives sets available to them for the whole of the two-day test.
Things were still on the quiet side when Ralph Boschung went to the top before the midway point of the morning session with a time of 1:22.544s with his Jenzer Motorsport team mate Pal Varhaug tucking in behind Palou for third place, but Palou soon put his local knowledge to good use to reclaim the lead position with a new effort of 1:21.624s as the track and the action finally started to properly warm up.
Trident's Luca Ghiotto was the next to drop under 1:22s to go into second place and four tenths ahead of Esteban Ocon with just under an hour to go, but Palou remained out of reach of the rest by extending his margin at the top with a best lap of 1:21.269s before the chequered flag came out for lunch.
Behind Palou, Ocon was spurred on by competition from his more experienced ART team mate Marvin Kirchhöfer to end the morning test with a best lap of 1:21.372s to put himself in second place, almost half a second faster than the German driver. Kirchhöfer was able to to hold onto third place ahead of Trident's Oscar Tunjo, who was just 0.002s faster of Ghiotto at the close of the first session.
In the afternoon, Palou was quick to return to the top of the times with an early offering of 1:21.845s a second quicker than Ghiotto and Arden's Emil Bernstorff. Although Tunjo and Carlin's Alex Fontana both closed the gap over the course of the next hour, it wasn't until Pal Varhaug improved to 1:21.531s shortly before the midway point that the Spaniard was pushed off the top, with Bernstorff following past into second place just 0.125s back from the Norwegian.
Esteban Ocon decided to flex his muscles and took up position at the top of the timing screens with a time of 1:21.511s which remained the benchmark for everyone to aim for into the final half hour. Alex Palou was able to shave a couple of tenths off the Frenchman's time as the top drivers vied for the honour of finishing the day with the best time, but it was Kirchhöfer who put in the best final effort to top the times with Ghiotto slotting into second with a late lap of 1:21.288s to stave off an ART 1-2 by pushing Ocon down to third as the chequered flag came out to call the day's action to a close.
Morning pacesetter Palou ended the afternoon fourth fastest, just ahead of Koiranen GP's Kevin Korjus (deputising for Adderly Fong who has Lotus F1 test duties this week) while Varhaug ended sixth fastest after being unable to improve upon his early session best. The top 17 drivers ended up covered by less than one second in what had been a hotly fought session with no stoppages for red flags all day.
The second and final day of testing in Valencia will get underway at 9am local time and run through to midday with just an hour for lunch before the final session starts at 1pm and runs through to 4pm. After this, there will be a further two-day pre-season test session on April 22-23 at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, ahead of the first round of the 2015 GP3 Series championship which will be held at Barcelona on May 8-10.
See full times from day 1 of GP3 pre-season testing at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.