European Minardi Cosworth today launched into an intensive test session at the Vallelunga circuit, in the hills outside of Rome.

At the conclusion of the three-day programme, which involves two European Minardi PS03 chassis, the team will have evaluated as many as five promising young drivers and progressed through a busy technical schedule, which includes engine, tyre and aerodynamic development work.

Today, it was the turn of Argentina's Jose-Maria Lopez and Italian, Fabrizio del Monte, to handle the driving duties. The duo dealt with the cold, wet conditions that predominated on the opening day of the test with considerable maturity, each quickly getting to grips with Formula One levels of performance.

They also spent time working with European Minardi technical staff on chassis and aerodynamic set-up work, as well as differential and engine mapping.

"I must confess that early this morning it was very cold and we found it hard working in such difficult conditions - even more because I had never run on a dump track in the rain before," noted Lopez, "All things considered, I think we did a good job. As the day went on, I became more confident, helped a lot by the engineers, who assisted me and helped me to improve the car. I'd like to thank all the staff at Minardi because they made me feel at ease, which allowed me to work in a good frame of mind and with the right level of concentration."

del Monte added: "To me, this was a wonderful day because I was able to drive a Formula One car for the very first time. We were not helped by the weather, but towards the end of the day, as soon as the track had begun to dry, I could better feel the sense of braking with the carbon discs and realised how you feel when you drive a car with an 800-horsepower engine. I think that everything turned out well today, and I hope there is the opportunity to do some additional laps in the car before this test is over."

Giancarlo Minardi concluded: "Today marked a good beginning for Fabrizio del Monte. He did some trouble-free laps and showed strong potential. Jos? Maria Lopez also did a very good job, and there is no doubt he has a bright future ahead of him. Despite the bad weather conditions today, the team is very pleased with the Vallelunga facility, which looks like an excellent venue for Formula One testing, and in particular, for carrying out chassis set-up work."

Finland's Heikki Kovalainen is scheduled to drive for the Faenza squad tomorrow.

Leading times (10 December) - Vallelunga:

1. Jose-Maria Lopez Minardi-Cosworth PS03 1m 11.782s 61 laps B
2. Fabrizio del Monte Minardi-Cosworth PS03 1m 15.120s 22 laps B

B - denotes Bridgestone tyres

Weather / track conditions: Overcast, cold and raining.



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