Adam Carroll continued to underline Racing Engineering's return to the front of the GP2 Series field by putting himself at the top of the timesheets in Friday morning's free practice session at Magny-Cours.
The Briton, who secured a front row start and two podium finishes on home soil at Silverstone before the mid-summer break, posted a best time of 1min 24.456secs that proved to be just over a tenth too good for the rest of the 26-car field. Interestingly, Carroll set his time early in the session, before spending the remainder of his track time working on set-up, leaving the rest of the field to play catch-up.
At the end of the half-hour session, it was Hiroki Yoshimoto and Nelson Piquet Jr who filled out the rest of the top three, although both also set their best laps early on as an unusually quiet practice session saw the teams prefer to perfect their cars for the afternoon qualifying session.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was down in ninth place, as he had been during the recent Paul Ricard test, with ART Grand Prix team-mate Alex Premat only one place better off. More sandbagging from the champions, or a reflection of their true pace this weekend?
Behind Piquet, who will hope that ART has an off-weekend on the circuit where it turned last season around, Olivier Pla returned from an enforced injury break to claim a promising fourth spot for DPR Direxiv, while Jose Maria Lopez, fastest in testing, completed the top five as he looks to turn his year around with a good result.
As usual, the times were as close as ever, with the top three separated by less than two-tenths, one second covering 13 drivers, down to Franck Perera, and all bar three cars being within two seconds of the top time. Those off the pace were Fairuz Fauzy and usual suspect Jason Tahinci, while points frontrunners Gianmaria Bruni and Ernesto Viso both featured in the top ten.
The only notable off-track excursions involved a spin by Premat at Chateau d'Eau, while Javier Villa and Luca Filippi also took small trips across the gravel. Giorgio Pantano stopped on track in the dying moments with a suspected brake linkage problem.