Borja Garcia surprised the field at his first-ever Atlantic Championship test, posting the quickest lap on day one of two at Palm Beach International Raceway.
Despite being tagged as a 'rookie' in Atlantic terms, the experienced Spaniard - who has bounced between GP2 and the World Series by Renault in Europe for the past five years - turned a best lap of 1min 08.294secs in the #6 Condor Motorsports machine to lead a twelve-driver field.
“I'm really impressed, especially in the car,” Garcia admitted, “I think it's really fun to drive. It's harder to drive this car for the first time, but I really surprised myself because I did the best time in the morning and also in the afternoon. I think, for me, it's very, very good. We'll see what happens tomorrow, but it's a good start for me and my team. We'll see what happens.”
Second quickest on the day was series returnee John Edwards, who took the #36 Newman Wachs Racing entry to within three-tenths of Garcia's benchmark, at 1min 08.545secs. The reigning Star Mazda champion was among the first drivers to sign up for the 2009 season, and returns two years after becoming the youngest driver to compete in the series, as a 16-year old rookie, in 2007.
“The test went really well,” Edwards reported, “We haven't had a lot of testing - I think the last time I was in the car was four months ago, despite signing pretty early on in the off-season. It was really good to get out and get some real testing done.
''We ran through some stuff this morning and this afternoon. The track was a lot different and a lot slower, so we ran through some more stuff. Our times were still competitive, even though we were just running through some changes, so I'm really happy with it. Maybe tomorrow we'll try and go a little faster and concentrate on lap time a little more and use what we learned today.”
Simona de Silvestro was third fastest, at 1min 08.823secs, in the rebranded #78 Team Stargate Worlds car, just ahead of Genoa Racing rookie Frederic Vervisch - who arrives in Atlantics on the back of twin F3 titles in 2008 - and reigning champion Markus Niemela, who was making his debut with Newman Wachs. The top three times, as with the majority of fastest individual efforts, were set during the morning session.
“The team is great,” de Silvestro said, “I think we've got a great programme together for this year. Burke [Harrison] is a great engineer and the mechanics are doing a fantastic job. It's only our second test, so we're still taking the dust off the off-season, but I think it's going pretty well. I think we can improve a lot during the race weekends.”
The top-seven drivers were covered by less than one second, and the full day of testing ran without incident. A second day is scheduled for today [Wednesday], before the teams head to Sebring for the 2009 season-opener on 20 March.
Leading performances - Palm Beach International (10 March):
Condor 1m 08.294s
Newman Wachs 1m 08.545s
Simona de Silvestro
Stargate Worlds 1m 08.823s
Genoa 1m 09.010s
Newman Wachs 1m 09.060s
Stargate Worlds 1m 09.144s
Mathiasen 1m 09.149s
Jensen 1m 09.339s
Genoa 1m 09.488s
Condor 1m 09.510s
Conquest 1m 09.830s
Jensen 1m 12.706s
* denotes time set in afternoon session