Kimi Raikkonen topped the times on day three at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the South of France on Thursday, as the latest Formula 1 test moved into its penultimate day.

With all the teams having spent the past two days focusing on preparation for the Monaco Grand Prix, the emphasise switched to the upcoming North American races.

The first of these is at Montreal on June 10, a track which could not be more different from Monaco's slow corners and high downforce set-ups. The long straights, chicanes and hairpins of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve demand lower downforce but good braking stability as well as the ability to ride the kerbs well and make quick directional changes. To simulate that, the teams are now using a different layout - the 1E V2 SC track configuration - over a longer 5.255km lap.

Raikkonen, who took over from Felipe Massa, did 50 tours in total during the day, his best a 1 minute 28.883 seconds, around two tenths up on Scott Speed, who sprung a surprise and ended the day 'best of the rest' in second. Kimi was working on finding the best set-up with his F2007, comparing the different types of tyre provided by Bridgestone and on the development of some mechanical and aerodynamic components. He will continue running on Friday.

Speed meanwhile did just 5 laps short of 100, his best effort a 1m 29.039s. Having ended proceedings on Monday at the tail-end of the times, it was a complete reversal for the American to end day three near the top. He was working on set-up and on assessing Bridgestone's super soft tyre. Toni Liuzzi takes over for day four.

Heikki Kovalainen was next up in third for Renault. The Finn was only three hundredths slower than Speed, and despite indifferent weather and fairly strong gusts of wind, he had a trouble-free day. Indeed he notched up 89 tours, while concentrating on aero testing and set-up for the Canadian and US grand's prix.

"It was interesting changing circuits today because of the new braking points, trajectories and another level of downforce," said Kovalainen. "It was a pretty busy day. We completed our programme and we got through all the points we had to review. I now feel ready for Monaco and the races to come."

"We thought that this morning's wind would interfere with our test schedule, but finally we got through a lot of work," added Renault test team manager, Christian Silk. "Heikki said that he was happy with the car and we soon began our general preparation programme for Canada and the races to come. Tomorrow, Giancarlo will continue the work begun today and that'll bring us to the end of a marathon four-day test session."

Further down the order, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and Red Bull's Mark Webber were fourth and fifth respectively, split by a whisker. Both did around 80 laps despite the light rain in the afternoon, which meant conditions were far from ideal.

"Robert started the day defining a baseline set-up for a medium downforce configuration," explained a spokesperson for the BMW Sauber team. "He then tested different downforce options. Part of today's programme was the comparison of the two tyre compounds for the two forthcoming races. In addition, Robert made several practice starts.

"The team was able to complete the planned programme. Tomorrow, Nick Heidfeld will take over driving duties from Robert and will continue preparation for the medium downforce tracks."

Webber was also focusing on preparation for the Canadian Grand Prix, although he did some suspension work too. Mark will now hand the Adrian Newey designed RB3 back to David Coulthard, who is due to complete the programme on Friday.

Toyota's Franck Montagny came in sixth and although his programme ended slightly earlier, after he damaged the car on one of the kerbs and stopped out on the track, he was reasonably content.

"Today was quite okay," he noted. "We didn't have a lot of mileage to do and so we tried to optimise the test but it was not easy with the wind conditions and the odd shower of rain. We collected some decent information though, working on Montreal set-up and also continuing the step-by-step progress we have made since the start of the year. At the end of the day I had a slight problem and I clipped the outside kerb and stopped. Despite that, I think we made good progress overall."

Toyota test team manager, Gerd Pfeiffer agreed with that assessment and added that the damage to the car was not serious: "We concentrated on trying to find a good basic balance for the heavy braking and quick directional changes we will need in Montreal. Once we had done that we did some brake work in the afternoon. We had a trouble-free day until Franck just clipped the chicane 15 minutes before the end of the day, but there was no significant damage," he added.

Williams' Alex Wurz and Pedro de la Rosa rounded out the top eight, the former two tenths up on his former McLaren-Mercedes test buddy. de la Rosa 'won' though in terms of laps completed, with 96 on the board at the end of the day, compared to the 57 managed by Wurz. Pedro was focusing on set-ups, brakes and tyre selection.

Of the rest, Honda duo Rubens Barrichello and Christian Klien were ninth and tenth, both unable to break into the 1min 29sec bracket in the disappointing RA107. Klien incidentally did just 25 laps and he and Barrichello were not far ahead of James Rossiter, who was less than two tenths behind in the Honda 'B' team car. The Super Aguri tester managed over 100 laps in total, the most of anyone runner.

At the back, Spyker's Christijan Albers and Markus Winkelhock brought up the rear, both over 4 minutes off the pace. Winkelhock ran in the morning and did 46 laps, while Albers took over in the afternoon. He did just 16 laps though due to a mechanical problem.

"Markus Winkelhock began today's programme with some very useful initial work on Montreal aero set-up. He completed 43 laps before Christijan took over the car for the afternoon. Unfortunately we had only begun his programme when a mechanical issue on the car resulted us having to end the session early," summed-up Spyker's chief race and test engineer, Dominic Harlow.

"The cause is fully understood and it can be corrected immediately, but it is frustrating for Christijan and the team to lose out on some valuable test time. Still it is problems like this that we are here to uncover and fix as well as looking for performance improvements, and we expect to conclude the test tomorrow with another busy and productive day."

Testing is now due to conclude on Friday.

Leading performances (17 May) - Paul Ricard:

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 28.833s 50 laps
2. Scott Speed Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 29.039s 95 laps
3. Heikki Kovalainen Renault-Renault 1m 29.070s 89 laps
4. Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 1m 29.157s 83 laps
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m 29.179s 85 laps
6. Franck Montagny Toyota-Toyota 1m 29.205s 67 laps
7. Alex Wurz Williams-Toyota 1m 29.359s 57 laps
8. Pedro de la Rosa McLaren-Mercedes 1m 29.528secs 96 laps
9. Rubens Barrichello Honda-Honda 1m 30.108s 71 laps
10. Christian Klien Honda-Honda 1m 30.235s 25 laps
11. James Rossiter Super Aguri-Honda 1m 30.286 115 laps
12. Christijan Albers Spyker-Ferrari 1m 32.245s 16 laps
13. Markus Winkelhock Spyker-Ferrari 1m 32.756s 43 laps

all times unofficial - courtesy of McLaren

Track/weather conditions: Overcast with some light drizzle: Track temperature, 31.7?C / Ambient temperature, 20.1?C



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