A1 Team USA recorded the fastest time of the day at Paul Ricard, as the A1 Grand Prix series' second group test got underway at the high-tech circuit in the south of France.

Making its first appearance in the livery that it will carry this season, following an official unveiling prior to the three-day test starting, the American car, with GP2 frontrunner Scott Speed at the wheel, crept above its Brazilian mid-way through the afternoon session.

"A1 Team USA is very pleased with the today's results," 'seat holder' Rick Weidinger commented, "Anytime you finish a test, especially at Paul Ricard, and you're P1, you have to be happy. Scott has a rich heritage of racing results and today is another indication of his talent.

"The team did a wonderful job, they all pulled together, and that's a goal of ours, to be a team in the garage and on the track. We made a huge step forward today."

Scott's previous experience of Ricard, particularly from GP2's pre-season testing, set the tone for the opening day, as the American was followed on the timesheets by two other drivers with the same intimate knowledge of the French venue.

Nelson Piquet Jr set the second fastest time of the day at the wheel of the Brazilian entry, while Nicolas Lapierre ensured that France maintained its strong frontrunning form from the recent Silverstone test by taking third spot. Half a second split the top three entries, with the top seven all getting within a second of Speed's pace by the end of the day.

Robbie Kerr was fourth fastest for Team Great Britain, continuing his spell behind the wheel from Silverstone and leaving Alex Lloyd to await his first outing in the white, red and blue machine.

British F3 contenders Salvador Duran and Alvaro Parente - respectively leaders of the National and International standings - claimed fifth and sixth for Mexico and Portugal, while Jonny Reid took seventh for New Zealand. Reid is also currently plying his trade in F3, albeit in Japan rather than the UK.

Ireland proved to be the best of the 'new' teams at the test, with former Jordan Grand Prix F1 driver Ralph Firman taking his Lola to eighth fastest time. Originally considered for the GB team, Firman's Irish ancestry allowed him a second bite at the cherry and the sometime A1GP development driver was happy with his first day at the wheel.

"It was a very encouraging start for the team," he said, "They have only had one week to get the car ready and they've done a fantastic job to get the car up and running."

Two of the series' earliest confirmed contenders - Australia and Malaysia - rounded out the top ten, while newcomers Germany, India, Indonesia and Russia filled the 15th, 17th, 18th and 20th spots.

The field contained the usual mix of experience and raw talent, with the likes of Firman, Jos Verstappen, Tomas Scheckter and Alex Yoong being joined by Formula Renault racer Romain Grosjean (Team Switzerland), Teng Jiang (China) and Adam Khan (Pakistan). Renault World Series driver Karun Chandhok piloted the Indian entry, while series rival Will Davison got a chance in the Australian entry. Former F3000 racer Ananda Mikola, currently racing in the Asian F3 series, was at the wheel of the Indonesian car, while FIA GT regular Nikolay Fomenko gave the Russian machine its debut outing. Former DTM regular Timo Scheider drove the German car.

"Today's test showed just how exciting the A1 Grand Prix races are set to be," series founder Sheikh Maktoum claimed, "Each team became increasingly competitive as the day progressed, with the countries in the top few positions changing constantly.

"We saw 20 identical cars each driven by a mixture of established drivers and young up-and-coming talent, each racing for the pride of their nation. This is a diverse series and, from today's results, we can see that it is also highly competitive. Now, I'm looking forward to tomorrow where the teams will experience the first rolling 'start' in A1 Grand Prix history."

No fewer than three former F1 world champions were present to oversee progress at the test, with Team GB owner John Surtees being joined by Brazilian counterpart Emerson Fittipaldi and 1982 titlewinner Keke Rosberg, who was present to discover more about the series. With little Scandinavian interest reported so far, could the Finn be about to extend A1GP's reach further north?

Leading performances (24 August) - Paul Ricard:

USA Scott Speed 1m 24.559sBrazil Nelson Piquet Jr 1m 24.973sFrance Nicolas Lapierre 1m 25.095sGreat Britain Robbie Kerr 1m 25.281sMexico Salvador Duran 1m 25.296sPortugal Alvaro Parente 1m 25.377sNew Zealand Jonny Reid 1m 25.536sIreland Ralph Firman 1m 25.687sAustralia Will Davison 1m 25.692sMalaysia Alex Yoong 1m 25.717sHolland Jos Verstappen 1m 25.751sPakistan Adam Khan 1m 26.139sSwitzerland Romain Grosjean 1m 26.147sSouth Africa Tomas Scheckter 1m 26.177sGermany Timo Scheider 1m 26.440sLebanon Basil Shaaban 1m 26.477sIndia Karun Chandhok 1m 27.978sIndonesia Ananda Mikola 1m 28.430sChina Teng Jiang 1m 29.377sRussia Nikolay Fomenko 1m 32.760s



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