Formula Renault 2.0 - Paul Ricard - Collective testing
Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 was the first of the four World Series by Renault categories to get down to pre-season collective testing, with 46 drivers gathering at Paul Ricard for the two-day event. And it was the more experienced hands who showed the way, with Stoffel Vandoorne (Josef Kaufmann Racing) fastest on Tuesday and Daniil Kvyat (Koiranen Motorsport) topping the timesheets on Wednesday.
TQuality and quantity seem to be the hallmarks of this season's Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 field. After some hectic private testing through the winter months, the drivers and teams that will contest the 2012 championship finally came together for the first official collective testing sessions, spread over two days and with no fewer than 46 FR 2.0s taking to the track at Paul Ricard.
With ten drivers in all, France was the best-represented nation, followed by the UK, Netherlands, Brazil and Italy with four each. Following a brief preliminary lap, the field, comprising a fine blend of youth and experience, got down to business. First to make a mark were some of last season's outstanding performers, among them Alex Riberas (Josef Kauffmann Racing). Sixth overall in Eurocup FR 2.0 in 2011 and a winner of one race, the Spaniard went fastest in the morning, ahead of Red Bull Junior Team's Daniil Kvyat, a two-time race winner and third overall last year, and Timmy Hansen (Interwetten.com Junior Team), who also topped the podium on one occasion last season.
Drivers and teams stuck to their task in the afternoon, the pace hotting up towards the end of the session as the first new tyres appeared. No more than a second separated first from 15th as Vandoorne posted the day's quickest lap of 2:03.922, just three tenths faster than Kvyat. Finishing a fine third was last season's Formula Renault 2.0 UK runner-up Oliver Rowland (Fortec Motorsport), a new boy to the category.
Rowland continued to impress the following morning, the 2011 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner posting a time of 2:03.764 to unseat Vandoorne at the top of the timesheets. Kvyat then took full advantage of the improving track temperatures to record a mid-session time of 2:03.499, the fastest on either day. Try as they might in the afternoon, the rest of the field could not better the Russian title challenger, who left Paul Ricard with a spring in his step, with Rowland, Oscar Andres Tunjo (Tech 1 Racing), Norman Nato (RC Formula) and Patrick Kujala (Koiranen Motorsport), the leading rookies over both days, completing Wednesday's top five.
What they said: Daniil Kvyat : "I want to win the title this season so it's important for me to get in among the leaders and stay there. It's going to be a tight competition this year, and the key will be to maintain consistency and not make the slightest mistake. I'll also need to score big points early on because there'll be a lot of drivers who'll get stronger as the season goes on."
Stoffel Vandoorne : "You can't really compare the times we did because we were all driving in different conditions at different times. We've got a specific programme to stick to and things are going fine. We've got some good pace going, and it promises to be a very competitive season."
Javier Tarancon : "RC Formula is a new team but the people in it have got a lot of experience. With Norman Nato, we're well equipped to do excel and Aurelien Panis, the third driver on the roster, is here to learn. It's also great for us to be able to chat with his father, Olivier Panis."
Nick de Vries : "December was a heavy month with a lot of driving but as you're not allowed to do any testing from 1 January I've been taking the opportunity to work out. I've a lot to learn this season, especially on all the different circuits. Driving them all together will give me a chance to compare them, but it's the opening race of the season, at Motorland Aragon, that we have to be ready for."