Fresh from his maiden 2011 Formula 3.5 victory at Spa-Francorchamps a fortnight ago, Jean-Eric Vergne emerged fastest in the opening free practice session at Monza this morning.
The final nine minutes of the 45-minute session were lost because of a fire on the circuit that brought out the red flags. The fire was understood to have been started by a cigarette and no cars were involved. The incident denied several of Vergne's rivals an opportunity to challenge his 1m38.159s time, which was set just after the half-hour mark.
ISR's Nathanael Berthon finished second fastest, 0.250s adrift, while Brendon Hartley was third for Gravity-Charouz.
Today's practice sessions are 30 minutes shorter than those enjoyed by Formula Renault 3.5 on the World Series by Renault package, as the championship is running with the World Touring Car Championship and Auto GP for the first time.
But the teams have recent experience of the track from pre-season testing to help come to grips with this weekend's relaxed aero rules. The previously compulsory application of a low aero configuration for Saturday's race one has been dropped for this meeting.
"For us, it doesn't make much difference that they have allowed a choice of aero set-ups," said Carlin's Vergne. "We're running lower than low [downforce] here anyway. The car feels pretty good, although we need to keep working. I think we had a good direction from the test."
Aragon winner Alexander Rossi was fourth for Fortec. Rossi's team-mate Cesar Ramos was last after being wrong-footed by the stoppage.
"It was unfortunate with the timing for Cesar," said Fortec team manager Jamie Dye, "but I'm sure he'll be up there in the afternoon. We're very happy with Alexander's time on used tyres from Spa. He matched the leaders in two of the sectors, and I am pretty certain next door [Carlin] took [new] tyres."
Aragon race two winner Kevin Korjus was fifth, ahead of Pons Racing's Filip Salaquarda and Oliver Webb.
Czech Salaquarda is contesting his first race of 2011 with Pons, but participated in the March test with his family ISR team, with which he contested the 2010 championship.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Jean Eric Vergne Carlin 1m38.159s 2. Nathanael Berthon ISR 1m38.409s + 0.250s 3. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz 1m38.428s + 0.269s 4. Alexander Rossi Fortec 1m38.451s + 0.292s 5. Kevin Korjus Tech 1 1m38.708s + 0.549s 6. Filip Salaquarda Pons 1m38.747s + 0.588s 7. Oliver Webb Pons 1m38.772s + 0.613s 8. Arthur Pic Tech 1 1m38.855s + 0.696s 9. Robert Wickens Carlin 1m38.884s + 0.725s 10. Daniil Move P1 1m38.929s + 0.770s 11. Stephane Richelmi Draco 1m39.056s + 0.897s 12. Albert Costa Epic 1m39.130s + 0.971s 13. Chris van der Drift Mofaz 1m39.179s + 1.020s 14. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m39.199s + 1.040s 15. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 1m39.251s + 1.092s 16. Daniel Ricciardo ISR 1m39.307s + 1.148s 17. Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz 1m39.332s + 1.173s 18. Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 1m39.374s + 1.215s 19. Sergio Canamasas BVM Target 1m39.529s + 1.370s 20. Nelson Panciatici KMP 1m39.697s + 1.538s 21. Andre Negrao Draco 1m39.708s + 1.549s 22. Daniel Zampieri BVM Target 1m39.711s + 1.552s 23. Daniel de Jong Comtec 1m39.990s + 1.831s 24. Sten Pentus Epic 1m40.010s + 1.851s 25. Daniel McKenzie Comtec 1m40.078s + 1.919s 26. Cesar Ramos Fortec 1m41.766s + 3.607s