Sato throws down the Macau gauntlet

Japan's Takuma Sato threw down the gauntlet to his rivals in the Macau Grand Prix when he set the quickest time in opening practice on Thursday. The Carlin Motorsport driver, who is racing in the prestigious Formula 3 race for the first time, was almost two seconds quicker than his closest challenger, Tiago Monteiro

Sato throws down the Macau gauntlet

"I am very happy with that," said Sato. "With a wet track it was good fun out there, and the quick times came at the end when a dry line appeared. We will need to improve the car a little bit, because the set-up was a bit of a guess for that session, but otherwise there are no problems. This is a very difficult circuit, but I am not surprised to be at the top of the time sheets."

Monteiro set his quickest time near the end of the session, when the dry line appeared, and he was just two hundreths of a second quicker than Japan's Seija Ara.

Indian Narain Karthikeyan, who is Sato's team-mate, had dominated the early stages of the session as he proved the master of the wet conditions. He was nearly seven seconds quicker than his nearest challengers at one stage, but eventually ended the session fourth quickest.

"I know I could have gone quicker, but I had to stop at the hairpin," he explained. "That cost me time and on my other quick lap I lifted off going past the timing beam. I am happy to be near the front of the field and the car feels very good."

Patrick Friesacher was fifth quickest, ahead of Toshihiro Kaneishi and Andre Couto, who comes from Macau. Couto spoke for many drivers when he said there was little point in pushing too hard during the free practice session. "I just wanted to see how the track was," he said. "There was no point taking any risks, so I am happy with my position."

Austrian Robert Lechner, who drives for reigning Macau champions TOM'S, was pleased with his eighth position. "I drove much quicker in the early stages than I had planned," he said. "I came into the pits to let the team know that I was happy with the car, but it was a mistake because when I came out I got stuck behind traffic. I am happy with the way things are going."

Ben Collins was the top British driver, ending the session in 12th place despite his rear wing working loose when a retaining bolt broke. "I'm pretty happy," he said. "There was no point in giving it everything in that session because it would be stupid to crash now. I only found out about the wing when I got back into the pits, so I am sure I could have gone quicker."

Andy Priaulx was 14th as he got to grips with the Macau circuit for the first time

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