Championship leader Daniel Ricciardo struck the first blow on British Formula 3's maiden visit to the Algarve by topping the times during three hours of official testing in Portugal today.
The Red Bull-backed Carlin driver, who can secure the title this weekend, has been battling illness in the past couple of weeks. He set the second fastest time in the morning session, 0.153s adrift of Hitech Racing rival Renger van der Zande, but found over a second during this afternoon's running to set a 1m38.121s best and finish the test on top of the timesheet. Both sessions were frequently interrupted by red flags.
"I've been feeling a bit sick to be honest, but in the car it seems to be fine," said Ricciardo. "We found a bit with the car this afternoon and the wind changed direction a bit too, which helped through the key corners.
"This morning we had a bit of fine tuning to do with the car for the afternoon session and it went pretty well in that direction. We've got a little bit more to do, but we're very close to getting there. The track's cool, the weather's nice, it's all fine."
By contrast, van der Zande only found 0.075s between sessions and wound up with the fourth fastest time. He dropped behind F3 Euro Series frontrunner Valtteri Bottas (ART) and Ricciardo's Carlin team-mate Max Chilton, who set second and third fastest times respectively this afternoon. Bottas topped the times briefly, but ultimately lost out to Ricciardo by 0.270s with Chilton a further three tenths back.
Euro Series points leader Jules Bianchi (ART) was the last driver to lap below 1m39s in fifth, while Manor Motorsport's Roberto Merhi rounded out the top six, just ahead of Double R's Carlos Huertas, who got blocked on his best flying lap.
Reigning Formula BMW Europe champion Esteban Gutierrez set the eighth fastest time to make it three ART cars in the top 10, while Ricciardo's main title rival Walter Grubmuller (Hitech), who struggled badly to 14th this morning, improved to ninth this afternoon on what he described as a "tough track."
This is a make-or-break weekend for the Austrian, who must beat Ricciardo to keep his championship hopes alive, so he will need to find more speed to stay in the race.
Huertas's Japanese Double R team-mate Daisuke Nakajima completed the top 10, just clear of Fortec's Riki Christodoulou, while series returnee Sam Bird (Fortec) and T-Sport's Adriano Buzaid found their running hampered by engine issues and wound up 12th and 13th.
Buzaid's T-Sport team-mate Gabriel Dias comfortably set the pace in the National Class, 20th overall and half a second clear of champion-elect Daniel McKenzie (Fortec).
Pos Driver Team Car Time 1. Daniel Ricciardo Carlin D/V 1m38.121s 2. Valtteri Bottas ART D/M 1m38.391s 3. Max Chilton Carlin D/V 1m38.701s 4. Renger van der Zande Hitech D/M 1m38.902s 5. Jules Bianchi ART D/M 1m38.972s 6. Roberto Merhi Manor D/M 1m39.082s 7. Carlos Huertas Double R D/M 1m39.143s 8. Esteban Gutierrez ART D/M 1m39.147s 9. Walter Grubmuller Hitech D/M 1m39.250s 10. Daisuke Nakajima Double R D/M 1m39.253s 11. Riki Christodoulou Fortec D/M 1m39.384s 12. Sam Bird Fortec D/M 1m39.442s 13. Adriano Buzaid T-Sport D/V 1m39.685s 14. Victor Garcia Fortec D/M 1m39.803s 15. Wayne Boyd T-Sport D/V 1m39.855s 16. Henry Arundel Carlin D/V 1m39.913s 17. Philip Major Carlin D/V 1m39.955s 18. Hywel Lloyd CF D/H 1m40.150s 19. Pedro Enrique Manor D/M 1m40.184s 20. Gabriel Dias T-Sport D/H 1m40.249s 21. Adrien Tambay ART D/M 1m40.288s 22. Stephane Richelmi Barazi-Epsilon D/M 1m40.603s 23. Jay Bridger Litespeed M/H 1m40.676s 24. Daniel McKenzie Fortec D/H 1m40.794s 25. Kevin Chen Double R D/M 1m42.214s 26. Mathieu Maurage West-Tec D/H 1m42.407s 27. Joe Ghanem Carlin D/H 1m43.179s 28. Max Snegirev West-Tec D/H 1m43.460s 29. Satrio Hermanto Litespeed S/H 1m43.931s 30. Victor Correa Litespeed S/H 1m46.401s