The 23 teams in the championship have started their third winter collective testing session. Luckily for the teams, weather conditions were good at the Circuit de Catalunya. Another cause for celebration was the lap record that was almost bettered. Third source of satisfaction - the line-up is greater than ever. Pierre Gasly (Tech 1 Racing) and Esteban Ocon (Art Junior Team) finally recorded the fastest times for the two sessions of the day.
Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 drivers were greeted warmly by the sun when the Circuit de Catalunya opened. Conditions were ideal for drivers to fine-tune their set-ups and understand how their tyres handled the roughest track in the program. With only six weeks to the start of the championship, performance has also become a priority.
Nyck de Vries (Koiranen GP) took the lead without delay. The young Dutch driver managed to keep Jake Dennis (Fortec Motorsports), Oliver Rowland (Manor MP Motorsport) and Bruno Bonifacio (Prema Powerteam) at bay. But the attack finally came from Pierre Gasly (Tech 1 Racing) who unlocked the full potential of his car on the best part of the track.
In the last half hour, most of those who used up their allocation of fresh tyres were unable to leave the pits. Those on the track attempted to oust Pierre Gasly from first place but were unsuccessful. With a time of 1:43.183, the Tech 1 Racing driver was just half a second from breaking the Circuit de Catalunya record held by Stoffel Vandoorne since 20 March 2012 (1:42.606).
At 2 pm, clouds gathered overhead in Barcelona but the North wind quickly swept away any threats of rain. This helped the teams to stay the course. After the installation lap where drivers fine-tuned their set-ups and saw how the track took its toll on tyres, their new tyres were fully utilized. Pierre Gasly shone again by topping the timesheets for a long time.
Over the short runs that ate up new tyres, the rankings saw frequent changes in the last two hours of the afternoon session. Certain drivers who had until then put pure performance on hold came out into the open. This was the case for Esteban Ocon. After aiming for long-term results this morning, the French driver stormed to the top with the best time of the day and withstood the return of Pierre Gasly.
What they said
Pierre Gasly: "The hard work we’ve put in is paying off. It’s a new car and you need time to understand all its subtleties and carry out development. At Motorland and at Paul Ricard, we focused on different parts of the puzzle and in Barcelona, we put them together. We’re second here, so we need to work more to claim the pole for the first qualification of the season."
Bruno Bonifacio: "We’ve made important changes in the right direction. The team is working very well and its efforts are paying off. This is the first time that I’m in the top ten and it’s very satisfying to perform this well constantly without having to wear out fresh tyres. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made but I think that we can still do better. In such a tough championship, you should never rest on your laurels."
Andrea Pizzitola: "I drove very little at Motorland Aragon and at Paul Ricard, but I found my bearings immediately thanks to the team’s good work. This morning, I had the sixth best time even though I installed my new tyres a little too late. And this afternoon, I remained in third position for a long time even though my tyres were worn. The base of the set-up is excellent. As for performance, it’s in everyone’s thoughts here. Shaving off the last tenths of a second depends on what happens behind the wheel and on how the set-up is fine-tuned for the track."