The opening weekend of the 2008 World Series by Renault season carries a new air of excitement and expectation, as 26 drivers line up eager to claim the first win for the latest Dallara-designed car.
Fittingly, Monza's hallowed acres provide the backdrop for two races which should, if testing is to be believed, be hotly contested. Pre-season sessions in Valencia and Barcelona have given drivers, engineers and mechanics the opportunity to get to know the new package, which has been directly inspired by Renault's R27 F1 machine, but do not provide a clear pecking order.
Those drivers with some experience of the category naturally showed well in testing, with the likes of Giedo van der Garde (P1 Motorsport), Marco Bonanomi (Red Devil Team Comtec), Robert Wickens (Carlin Motorsport), Guillaume Moreau (KTR), Bertrand Baguette (International Draco Racing) and Julien Jousse (Tech 1 Racing) all up there with the leaders, while two winners carrying over from last year - Mikhail Aleshin (Carlin Motorsport) and Salvador Duran (Interwetten.com) - are also likely to be in the mix.
The rookies, however, ensured that they enjoyed a share of the limelight during the winter, with Charles Pic perhaps the best of the bunch. Joining reigning champions Tech 1 Racing, the teenager posted the third fastest time in Barcelona behind Wickens and Baguette and showed few signs of succumbing to the pressure of stepping up from last season's Formula Renault Eurocup.
Mario Romancini (Epsilon Euskadi) is another newcomer to have hit the ground running, adapting well to the World Series despite coming from lower rungs of the ladder in South America, and cause a shock or two as the year progresses.
The 2008 line-up also features two new teams, although one, P1 Motorsport, is more the result of a name change than a complete new entity. Having taken over from Cram Competition, Roly Vincini's equipe fields the promising van der Garde alongside the series' only female racer, Pippa Mann. Meanwhile, Ultimate-Signature, the result of a collaboration between F3 teams Ultimate and Signature, is counting on two Brazilian in its first season, with the experienced Fabio Carbone - who graced the World Series sporadically over the past couple of years - being joined by Claudio Cantelli.
The traditional Spanish contingent will also be out in force, with no less than seven drivers on the starting grid this weekend. The Barba brothers - Marco with International Draco Racing and Alvaro with Prema Powerteam - will be joined by Miguel Molina (Prema), GP2 refugees Borja Garcia (RC Motorsport) and Marcos Martinez (Pons Racing), as well as newcomers Aleix Alcaraz and F3 champion Maximo Cortes.
One seat remains to be filled with just a couple of days to go before the opening round, with a vacancy alongside James Walker at Fortec.
As has become the norm, the World Series will trial another new qualifying format this season, similar to last year's but without the SuperPole. Instead, two 20-minute sessions, with 13 cars in each, will be used to determine the top eight drivers. The top four in each group will then start race one in reverse order, with the remainder of the field lining up conventionally behind them, before assuming their normal order for race two, when the remaining drivers will line up in the order they finished race one.
The starting line-up for this weekend's season-opener at Monza is as follows:
1. Julien Jousse FRA Tech 1 Racing
2. Charles Pic FRA Tech 1 Racing
3. Bertrand Baguette BEL International Draco Racing
4. Marco Barba ESP International Draco Racing
5. Mikhail Aleshin RUS Carlin Motorsport
6. Robert Wickens CAN Carlin Motorsport
7. Mario Romancini BRA Epsilon Euskadi
8. Alexandre Marsoin FRA Epsilon Euskadi
9. Miguel Molina ESP Prema Powerteam
10. Alvaro Barba ESP Prema Powerteam
11. Aleix Alcaraz ESP RC Motorsport
12. Borja Garcia ESP RC Motorsport
14. Maximo Cortes ESP Pons Racing
15. Marcos Martinez ESP Pons Racing
16. Daniil Move RUS KTR
17. Guillaume Moreau FRA KTR
19. Salvador Duran MEX Interwetten.com
20. Pablo Sanchez MEX Interwetten.com
21. Giedo van der Garde NED P1 Motorsport
22. Pippa Mann GBR P1 Motorsport
23. James Walker GBR Fortec Motorsport
24. TBA TBA Fortec Motorsport
25. Marco Bonanomi ITA Red Devil Team Comtec
26. Pasquale di Sabatino ITA Red Devil Team Comtec
27. Fabio Carbone BRA Ultimate Signature
28. Claudio Cantelli BRA Ultimate Signature
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