The British Formula Three Championship press office has confirmed that former champions Carlin and Manor Motorsport headed the unofficial timesheets at the first major test ahead of the 2003 season.

Although several teams produced different 'finishing orders', it was generally accepted that Carlin's Richard Antinucci and Alan van der Merwe and Manor's Clivio Piccione ended the day closely matched as the majority of competing teams tested at Snetterton.

With all the leading teams and drivers on hand, the test was the first form indicator for what promises to be a closely-fought season after a number of pilots showed race winning pace on a day that started grey and damp and never fully dried out.

The conditions appeared to suit van der Merwe perfectly, and the South African was reckoned to be fastest in the morning session. As the track dried progressively towards the end of the afternoon, however, both Antinucci and Piccione began to match van der Merwe's pace, while Jamie Green (Carlin) and Nelson Piquet Jr (Piquet Sports) were only a couple of tenths of a second slower, according to unofficial timing sources.

"It's going well at the moment," van der Merwe reckoned, "I always enjoy driving in the wet and I'm getting more and more confident every time I get in the car. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself, but this is the year that I want to win the British F3 Championship."

Antinucci was equally pleased with the outcome of the day.

"It is important to be in the ballpark at this stage," the American explained, "At the end, every lap was getting faster, and it has been a good team effort."

Overseen by his former world champion father, Piquet Jr set front-running pace even though he found the conditions something of a culture shock after transferring from his homeland.

"I miss the weather of Brazil," the youngster sighed as he shivered in the cold and damp of Norfolk in early March. His pace on the track, however, was anything but cool, as the reigning SudAm F3 champion signalled his intentions of being a title contender in his first season of racing in Europe.

Leading the British drivers was Green, the 2002 BRDC McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year. Despite damaging his car with an off into the tyre wall at Riches early in the afternoon, he rewarded the Carlin engineers' work by lapping among the leading times in the closing laps of the day.

In the Scholarship Class, Irishman Steven Kane set the pace for T-Sport, recording times well inside the top ten overall, while team-mate Karun Chandhok and Meritus Racing's Ivor McCullough headed the chase.

An increasingly busy F3 schedule continues with further testing at Rockingham and Donington Park next week, ahead of the season opener at the Leicestershire venue on 6 April.