Sato Finishes Paul Ricard Test on Top

Takuma Sato helped BAR end their week with something to smile about after he topped the afternoon times on the final day of this week's test at Paul Ricard in France, after teams were forced to switch to a shorter version of the track following Alexander Wurz's massive accident

Sato Finishes Paul Ricard Test on Top

The track owners had been unable to fix the damage to crash barriers caused when Wurz speared off the circuit at Virage de Verrerie at the end of the morning session, and that meant teams could no longer continue using the long 1E configuration designed to help prepare teams for the European and Canadian Grands Prix.

Faced with the option of cancelling the test altogether or changing the circuit layout they would use, the teams agreed to run on the shorter 2E version, with Sato setting his best lap in the closing minutes of the day.

That result will provide a welcome morale boost to the team, who are hoping that the extra ballast they will have to carry now to stay within the Formula One regulations will not hinder their pace too much - especially with a host of new aerodynamic developments having been tried out.

However, there were some suggestions that Sato's time may have been helped with a bit of chicane straight-lining.

Toyota duo Ricardo Zonta and Olivier Panis maintained the Japanese manufacturers promising form from the test with the second and third quickest times, and their out-and-out pace was backed up by some encouraging results from long tyre runs on Monaco-spec tyres - which bodes well for the team's chances of claiming a maiden victory in Monte Carlo next weekend.

With Renault appearing to suffer from more blistering with their tyres than Toyota, even with test driver Heikki Kovalainen fourth quickest at the end of the day, it appears as if the French manufacturer will have a major fight on their hands for victory in the most prestigious race of the season.

However, Panis was well aware that while the Toyota has always been quick on smooth circuits, it is not as well suited to the kind of bumps that will be experienced at Monaco.

"What we worked on here improved the balance of the car a lot," he said. "Now we just need to see where we are on a track that is as bumpy as Monaco.
 
"On paper I would say that Monaco wouldn't be one of the best circuits for Toyota this year. Imola was our hardest circuit so far because of its kerbs and Monaco's bumps are also a challenge for the suspension.

"But Monaco is a Grand Prix which can often throw up a surprise result so you never know. If the cars can score points it will be great. Anything more would be a major bonus."

Renault's Franck Montagny was fifth fastest, despite only getting out in the afternoon session with one hour left following a technical problem that kept him in the pits.

Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve damaged his car running over a kerb and had to stop his session earlier than planned.

"Until Alexander Wurz's accident we could run our planned programme, but as a result of this we all had to return to the short track layout which was a big disappointment for our team," said Giampaolo Dall'Ara, Sauber's race engineer.

"It completely mixed up our programme and we needed to find a compromise, but at the end of the day we managed to complete the test. Unfortunately Jacques ran wide at one point and hit hard a kerb of another track layout. This damaged the car too much to continue, so we were forced to finish earlier today.

"Although we missed some running I think the test this week was not too bad overall. We were able to make our Michelin tyre selection for Montreal and found a reasonable set-up. However, the car's performance still needs improvement."
 
McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa ended the afternoon session well down the order in seventh place, just behind Jenson Button, but his running had been limited after the team checked his car over thoroughly for possible problems that could have caused Wurz's accident.

In the end, he only completed 61 laps - but he would still have been encouraged by the fact that he had topped the times in the morning session.

Red Bull Racing duo Christian Klien and David Coulthard also spent a lot of the afternoon in the garage rather than out on the track.

Afternoon times (2E configuration):

Pos  Driver        Team-Engine         Tyres  Time     Laps
 1.  Sato          BAR-Honda            (M)  1:00.744  131
 2.  Zonta         Toyota               (M)  1:00.822   98
 3.  Panis         Toyota               (M)  1:00.933   65
 4.  Kovalainen    Renault              (M)  1:01.052   66
 5.  Montagny      Renault              (M)  1:01.343   22
 6.  Button        BAR-Honda            (M)  1:01.477   64
 7.  de la Rosa    McLaren-Mercedes     (M)  1:01.667   61
 8.  Klien         Red Bull-Cosworth    (M)  1:01.810   31
 9.  Villeneuve    Sauber-Petronas      (M)  1:02.595   54
10.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Cosworth    (M)  1:02.949   58

Morning times (1E configuration):

Pos  Driver        Team-Engine         Tyres  Time     Laps
 1.  de la Rosa    McLaren-Mercedes     (M)  1:23.817   48
 2.  Wurz          McLaren-Mercedes     (M)  1:23.936   39
 3.  Montagny      Renault              (M)  1:23.982   60
 4.  Zonta         Toyota               (M)  1:24.002   29
 5.  Kovalainen    Renault              (M)  1:24.474   88
 6.  Sato          BAR-Honda            (M)  1:24.590   48
 7.  Button        BAR-Honda            (M)  1:24.640   49
 8.  Panis         Toyota               (M)  1:25.134   23
 9.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Cosworth    (M)  1:25.341   47
10.  Klien         Red Bull-Cosworth    (M)  1:25.948   73

All Timing Unofficial

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