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Formula Renault 3.5

Catalan driver Albert Costa (Epic Racing) shone on home soil on Friday, going fastest in both sessions of testing to finish the day ahead of surprise package Nick Yelloly (Pons Racing). Meanwhile, championship rivals Robert Wickens (Carlin) and Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) made low-key starts to a weekend that will end with one of them being crowned champion.

The skies were grey as the 26 drivers in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series field began the final weekend of the season with two sessions of collective testing. Sitting in this weekend for ISR’s Daniel Ricciardo, who is competing at the Formula One Grand Prix in Japan, is Lewis Williamson. The new boy was unable to take part in testing due to prior commitments with Red Bull Racing and will make his first appearance in Saturday’s qualifying. In another change in the field, Andre Negrao (International Draco Racing) failed to recover from his injury problems and made way for Adrien Tambay, previously seen on FR 3.5 Series duty at Monaco earlier in the season.

Racing on home ground, Costa set the tone at the start of the morning session before the rookies took charge, with Nick Yelloly clocking a time of 1:35:856 to lead from Oliver Webb (Pons Racing), Alexander Rossi (Fortec Motorsports) and Kevin Korjus (Tech 1 Racing). All eyes were on the championship-chasing duo of Wickens and Vergne, however, with the Canadian wasting little time in making his mark, trumping Yelloly and Vergne with a time of 1:35:626 only 15 minutes into the session. The championship leader then went even faster before Rossi slid off to bring the session to a temporary halt.

Costa climbed up to second on the restart before Rossi showed he had done no damage to his car by nudging Wickens off top spot with a time of 1:35:440. That was the prelude to yet more fastest laps as first Nathanael Berthon (ISR) and then Costa led the timesheets, the Catalan ending session one out front with a time of 1:34:437, ahead of Walter Grubmuller (P1 Motorsport) and Rossi. Carlin stable-mates Wickens and Vergne finished sixth and 12th respectively, both deciding to keep their new tyres under wraps.

Costa, Brendon Hartley (Gravity-Charouz) and Grubmuller were the early movers in the afternoon session, contested with a light, aerodynamic set-up. Vergne and Tech 1 Racing team-mates Korjus and Arthur Pic put down some fast laps of their own before Yelloly momentarily put Costa in the shade with a time of 1:34:268. The Barcelona driver was not to be denied on his home patch, however, and came back to post the day’s fastest time of 1:34:268, the perfect confidence-booster for the Spaniard as he bids for third place in the championship standings.

What they said:

Albert Costa: “First this morning and first this afternoon: that’s the first time I’ve managed that in Formula Renault 3.5 Series. I’ve been thinking about nothing else than this weekend for the last two weeks. I need a win and I want to finish third in the championship, which would be important for my future. The easiest way to avoid getting caught up in the battle between Wickens and Vergne is to finish ahead of them.”

Robert Wickens: “The key this weekend is not to change things and just carry on as usual. It’s when you make changes that you make mistakes. I’m happy with my season no matter what happens now. Carlin have always given us fantastic equipment and I know they’ll be doing everything they can again this weekend to prepare two perfect cars for us.”

Jean-Eric Vergne: “Today’s collective testing was just like any other. Tomorrow we’ve got qualifying then a race, just like any other weekend, and the same on Sunday. I’ve got my mind on just one thing and that’s winning. That’s the only option.”

Official Renault Sport Press Release.

Posted: 07 October 2011
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