After persistent rain soaked this region yesterday, the second day of European Minardi's scheduled three-day test at the Vallelunga circuit, near Rome, took place in cold, but otherwise improved weather conditions.

Today [Thursday], it was the turn of Finn, Heikki Kovalainen, to have his first run in a European Minardi Cosworth PS03.

The 22-year-old, from Suomussalmi, was joined by Jose-Maria Lopez, and briefly in the afternoon, by Fabrizio del Monte. The latter two both drove for the team yesterday, but had been unable to sample the undiluted performance of a Formula One car because of the wet conditions.

The drivers were reported to have provided good 'feedback' while working with European Minardi staff on a technical programme that included engine performance assessment, aerodynamic work, brake system comparison and weight distribution evaluation.

"I think it was a very good day," said Kovalainen, "This is a new track for me, and the test started off with the circuit a little bit damp. To be honest, though, it wasn't too difficult to get used to it. After a handful of laps, I managed to set a reasonable time and felt I was near the limit.

"In the afternoon, we completed our driving programme on schedule, and I think we found some improvement. Obviously, I was becoming more confident with my driving all the time, as well as with my braking. All told, it was a positive experience."

John Walton, Minardi's sporting director, added: "It has been a very good day as far as the team is concerned. The track surface was still damp this morning, which meant we had to run on intermediate tyres up until lunch, before we could switch to dries this afternoon.

"Heikki and Jose-Maria both did excellent jobs - they produced consistent lap times, were very evenly matched, and provided useful feedback to the engineers. They got through a massive amount of work between them, which helped us in a big way with our test programme. We were extremely impressed with both of them.

"Fabrizio wasn't scheduled to be in the car today, but as he didn't get a chance to drive in the dry yesterday, we decided to give him a run on slicks late this afternoon. Unfortunately, he only managed to complete 11 laps before the rain started to fall again, and we had no choice but to call him in. He also did a good job, though, and was clearly getting to grips with the performance of an F1 car on a dry track by the end of his run."

Minardi 2003 test driver, Gianmaria Bruni, Austrian, Norbert Siedler, and India's Narain Karthikeyan are scheduled to drive during the final day of the test, tomorrow.

Leading times (11 December) - Vallelunga:

1. Heikki Kovalainen Minardi-Cosworth PS03 1m 02.545s 81 laps B
2. Jose-Maria Lopez Minardi-Cosworth PS03 1m 02.909s 52 laps B
3. Fabrizio del Monte Minardi-Cosworth PS03 1m 07.194s 11 laps B#

# - denotes only on track in the afternoon.
B - denotes Bridgestone tyres

Weather / track conditions: Overcast and cloudy.



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