Nelson Piquet Jr finished the first official GP2 Series 'winter' test in the manner in which he began it, setting the fastest lap of the final session - and posting a new lap record for Paul Ricard to boot.

The Brazilian set the quickest lap of the entire test during the final afternoon session on Wednesday, clocking 1min 15.565secs to finish half a second ahead of fellow series veteran Gimmi Bruni's Durango Dallara.

Piquet recorded consistently fast times throughout the test, despite numerous mechanical problems blighting his Piquet Sports entry, and completed 20 laps on the second morning, chasing newcomer Adrian Valles' target time of 1min 16.378secs with his own 1min 16.448secs effort. Another 23 laps after lunch saw the Brazilian find almost a second as he completed another 23 laps and claimed the lap record.

"I would say it's been good for about 80 per cent of the time," the Brazilian, who has been driving his country's A1 Grand Prix entry since the end of the 2005 GP2 season, "The car has broken down quite a bit - we didn't get to use the tyres much today and the engine broke yesterday. It has been good though, and we were first or second quickest the whole time. We were half a second quicker than anyone else this afternoon, and set the circuit record, which is a good start to the winter programme."

Piquet emerged the quickest of the 28 drivers - a blend of seasoned runners and complete newcomers - to try their hand over the two days, in which all twelve teams tried out potential candidates for 2006. No fewer than 16 drivers made their debuts over the two days of running, although its was the more experienced names that eventually came out on top overall, with Piquet and Bruni sandwiching day one pacesetter Jose Maria Lopez, who did not run on Wednesday.

Day two saw the clear skies of Tuesday disappear behind clouds, and the wind pick up enough to begin affecting times. In the colder morning conditions, new boy Valles led the way for BCN Competicion, but the Spaniard, who has made his name this year in the World Series by Renault, found himself demoted on the day's combined timesheet by F3 Euroseries runner Franck Perera, who made full use of the title-winning ART Grand Prix car to claim third fastest time overall. The Frenchman, however, had not had it easy, completing just three laps before lunch, with a best time some six seconds of the next slowest runner.

Olivier Pla was not far behind his countryman on the afternoon list, but found himself demoted another spot on the overall for the day, as Alvaro Parente pushed the iSport Dallara into the top five. Clivio Piccione and Ernesto Viso were similarly affected, as World Series champion Robert Kubica and series rival Andreas Zuber both counted on morning times to push the regulars down the order

Viso's Coloni 'team-mate', F3000 Italia champion Luca Filippi raised his game having got a day's acclimatisation under his belt, and closely shadowed the Venezuelan on the overall list, while fellow rookies Tomas Kostka and Michael Ammermuller also impressed on their second days, the German finishing ahead of Arden colleague Nicolas Lapierre.

Among those making their GP2 debuts on the second day, Lucas di Grassi and Giedo van der Garde, both from the F3 Euroseries, joined the growing roster of try-outs at DAMS, while Campos Racing and Racing Engineering both gave a chance to another Spaniard, with Antonio Barba and Alejandro Nunez running respectively. Piccione, Kubica, Parente and Hiroki Yoshimoto all ran with different teams on day two, joining DPR, Super Nova, iSport and Arden respectively.

From Ricard, the GP2 circus moves on to another two-day test at Jerez in November, where further hopefuls are expected to join the race for places on next year's grid.

Leading performances - combined sessions (12 October):

Nelson Piquet Jr Hitech Piquet Sports 1:16.448 1:15.565 20/23 Gianmaria Bruni Durango 1:16.077 0/47 Franck Perera ART Grand Prix 1:25.143 1:16.243 3/44 Adrian Valles BCN Competicion 1:16.378 16/0 Alvaro Parente iSport International 1:16.478 1:16.926 20/47 Olivier Pla DPR 1:16.839 1:16.499 46/49 Robert Kubica Super Nova International 1:16.517 1:16.886 51/29 Andreas Zuber iSport International 1:16.568 1:17.063 52/20 Clivio Piccione DPR 1:17.375 1:16.601 36/36 Ernesto Viso Coloni Motorsport 1:16.877 1:16.631 37/23 Luca Filippi Coloni Motorsport 1:16.698 1:17.022 35/18 Tomas Kostka ART Grand Prix 1:16.871 1:16.704 29/24 Michael Ammermuller Arden International 1:16.720 44/0Nicolas Lapierre Arden International 1:16.727 0/33 Lucas di Grassi DAMS 1:17.130 1:16.814 54/43 Fairuz Fauzy Super Nova International 1:16.885 1:17.371 46/20 Hiroki Yoshimoto Arden International 1:17.173 1:16.957 41/30 Antonio Garcia Campos Racing 1:17.533 1:16.981 22/39 Alexandre Negrao Hitech Piquet Sports 1:16.998 1:17.082 52/49 Giorgio Mondini Durango 1:17.337 1:17.212 27/43 Antonio Barba Campos Racing 1:18.589 1:17.767 51/38 Giedo Van de Garde DAMS 1:18.105 1:17.905 50/44 Alejandro Nunez Racing Engineering 1:18.761 1:18.480 46/32

[times in bold are best across two sessions, shown AM and PM; laps in each session also shown AM/PM]

Leading performances - all sessions (11-12 October):

Nelson Piquet Jr Hitech Piquet Sports 1:15.565Jose Maria Lopez ART Grand Prix 1:16.047Gianmaria Bruni Durango 1:16.077Franck Perera ART Grand Prix 1:16.243Adrian Valles BCN Competicion 1:16.378Alvaro Parente iSport International 1:16.478Olivier Pla DPR 1:16.499Robert Kubica Durango 1:16.517Andreas Zuber iSport International 1:16.568Clivio Piccione DPR 1:16.601Ernesto Viso Coloni Motorsport 1:16.631Luca Filippi Coloni Motorsport 1:16.698Tomas Kostka ART Grand Prix 1:16.704Michael Ammermuller Arden Internatonal 1:16.720Nicolas Lapierre Arden Internatonal 1:16.727Lucas di Grassi DAMS 1:16.814Fairuz Fauzy Super Nova International 1:16.885Robert Kubica Super Nova International 1:16.886Hiroki Yoshimoto Arden Internatonal 1:16.957Antonio Garcia Campos Racing 1:16.981Alexandre Negrao Hitech Piquet Sports 1:16.998 Hiroki Yoshimoto DPR 1:17.045Alvaro Parente DAMS 1:17.211Giorgio Mondini Durango 1:17.212Hayanari Shimoda iSport International 1:17.299James Rossiter DAMS 1:17.390Javier Villa Racing Engineering 1:17.473Clivio Piccione Arden International 1:17.626 Antonio Barba Campos Racing 1:17.767Giedo Van de Garde DAMS 1:17.905Roldan Rodriguez Campos Racing 1:18.431Alejandro Nunez Racing Engineering 1:18.480

[where drivers tested with more than one team, slower performances shown in italics]


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