FR3.5-PAUL RICARD HTTT-Collective Testing-No separating Wickens and Vergne
Robert Wickens (Carlin) and Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) are showing no signs of weakness as their championship duel comes to the boil. The Frenchman was quicker than anyone in collective testing this morning, while the Canadian hit back in the afternoon to head the day's timesheets. Yet while the Carlin duo are refusing to give an inch as they battle it out, the likes of César Ramos (Fortec Motorsport), Brendon Hartley (Gravity Charouz) and Albert Costa (Epic Racing) look determined to ensure there will be no two-horse race at the Paul Ricard HTTT.
There are no major changes in the field for the last-but-one leg of the season, with Nick Yelloly once again lining up for Pons Racing after his fine display at Silverstone, and Fairuz Fauzy behind the wheel at Mofaz Racing.After completing installation laps, Vergne and Sten Pentus (Epic Racing) set the pace early in session one, with Nelson Panciatici (KMP Racing) quickly joining the fray. Twenty minutes in it was the turn of championship frontrunner Wickens to show what he could do by trimming the fastest time to 1:54:146, just ahead of Costa.The positions remained largely unchanged throughout the session, while the red flags were out twice after Oliver Webb (Pons Racing) and then Jan Charouz (Gravity-Charouz) exited the track. Following the second disruption and despite decidedly hot track conditions, the drivers switched to new tyres, with Vergne grinding out a string of fastest times, culminating in a lap of 1:52:469. Swapping second place behind him were Costa, Kevin Korjus (Tech 1 Racing), Panciatici and Hartley, although Wickens outpaced them all at the end of the session to finish second behind his Carlin team-mate.The track temperature was hovering around the 30°C mark when session two began. As drivers focused on their set-ups rather than times, it was Wickens who dominated proceedings early on before Charouz took to the top midway through the session. Having incurred a penalty for his exit in the morning, Webb showed his set-up was just right by taking his turn in the lead.Vergne led the field going into the final half hour of the day's testing, to be promptly replaced by Pentus. The picture changed once more with the appearance of the first sets of new tyres. After Costa became the first driver to trump Vergne's fastest time of the morning, the Carlin twosome hit back hard, with Wickens stopping the clock at 1:51:907, the quickest lap of the day, and Vergne coming in just behind him. Completing the top three was Ramos.What they said: Jean-Eric Vergne: "We worked hard and we did well on both worn and fresh tyres. This is a special weekend for me because I'm in demand with the media and the like. I need to focus 100 per cent on my race, though, because I have to score maximum points."
César Ramos : "It's not a track I particularly like, but if I get a good result here I'll fall in love with it. I went through a bad patch after making a good start to the season and now I need to get back on track. The best way to do that is to put in a couple of good performances here."
Nick Yelloly: "My season in GP3 Series is over, and after my experience at Silverstone I really want to drive again in Formula Renault 3.5 Series. We came up with a solution at the start of the week and we're also working towards being at the final race in Barcelona. This is the first time I've driven with this layout, and I need to get used to it."