Lucky Strike BAR Honda returned to Barcelona for a second three-day test at the Circuit de Catalunya this week, reuniting veteran Jacques Villeneuve with the 004-Honda, and giving FNippon champion Ralph Firman his first taste of Formula One power since testing a McLaren as part of his Autosport young driver award.

The main focus of the test was electronic software development analysis together with some brake development work and Bridgestone tyre testing. Regular test driver Anthony Davidson kicked off proceedings with 96 laps on day one - more than any other driver - and a best time of 1min 20.363secs. Back in the car for day two, Davidson covered a further 79 laps and achieved an improved time of 1min 19:422secs, with the car running smoothly until the end of the day, when a mechanical problem caused it to stop out on the circuit.

Day three of the test saw Firman make his return to a Formula One car test in a standard BAR004. The 27-year old British driver was invited to test with the team in recognition of his success in winning the Japanese FNippon Championship this year, and he completed 46 laps of the Barcelona track - with a best time of 1min 21.045secs once Davidson had completed systems check in the morning.

"I was given the opportunity by Lucky Strike BAR Honda to experience Formula One technology and to see what I could do," said an impressed Firman later, "The biggest difficulty I had initially was getting used to the braking - it takes a few laps to get a feel for how late you can brake into a corner.

"It is also hard to trust the traction control system to start with. The engineers were telling me I could trust it 100 per cent and, once I started to do that, it was fine. It took me about 20 laps to get used to the car, after which I was able to start suggesting small changes that made me more comfortable. I would like to thank the team for giving me this amazing opportunity."

Firman was joined on track by Villeneuve, who was testing for the first time since the end of the 2002 season. The Canadian took the opportunity to evaluate the work that the team had carried out over the last two tests, and also completed a tyre test for Bridgestone. He covered 74 laps with a best time of 1min 18.828secs.

"Today was not a bad day," Villeneuve conceded, "We were here to test some electronic software for next year and we did what we set out to do without any problems, so I am quite happy."

The test team now moves to Jerez, where new recruit Jenson Button will have his first outing in the BAR004 on 13-14 December. Another young driver, Kousuke Matsuura, will have his first taste of Formula One on 15 December, after the team offered him a test in recognition of his position as runner-up in this year's German F3 Championship.

 

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