Esteban Guerrieri sent out a statement of intent to his championship rivals by recording the fastest time in the opening Formula Renault 3.5 free practice session at Barcelona this morning
The Argentinean ISR racer is one of three drivers who can capture the series' title in this weekend's final round.
Guerrieri lies third in the standing, 16 points behind long-time championship leader Mikhail Aleshin. The Carlin driver ended the morning in eighth, but will not be too despondent to see his closest challenger, Tech 1 Racing's Daniel Ricciardo, down in 19th place.
Red Bull Formula 1 reserve driver Ricciardo, who is just three points off Aleshin's series lead, ran on old tyres during the session and concentrated on light aerodynamic set-up work for tomorrow's opening race.
In search of his maiden victory of the season, 2009 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion Albert Costa was second fastest, some four tenths shy of Guerrieri's 1m34.845s benchmark.
Junior Lotus Racing's Nelson Panciatici was third, leading a strong showing from Carlin's American rookie Jake Rosenzweig. P1 Motorsport's Walter Grubmuller and Costa's Epsilon Euskadi team-mate Keisuke Kunimoto completed the top six.
Bruno Mendez was forced to sit out his home race after breaking his hand during a debut Superleague appearance with Atletico Madrid at the Chinese Ordos circuit last weekend.
Interwetten has substituted the 2009 European Formula 3 Open champion with former driver, and Barcelona specialist, Salvador Duran, who finished 10th fastest this morning.
"It was a very last minute deal," said Duran. "I have been racing in NASCAR Mexico this year, so it was quite difficult to adapt to the G-force and the braking points. I am here because I have a very good relationship with [FHV Interwetten boss] Walter Thimmler. We've worked together for two and a half years, and he is helping me a lot.
"Honestly, I think a top 10 this weekend would be a good result, as I have a lot of respect for the drivers ahead of me. NASCAR Mexico is a good professional series with grids of 42 or 43 cars, but it is a mixture of racing and show business, so I would quite like to come back to something like [Formula Renault 3.5] next year."
Recently crowned British Formula 3 champion Jean-Eric Vergne joined Mendez as an absentee, owing to prior work obligations. The Frenchman is set to arrive at the circuit this afternoon, but will most likely have his first run of the weekend in Saturday morning's qualifying session.
Reigning Formula 2 champion Dean Stoneman acquitted himself well on his competition debut in the category, finishing two tenths off his closest rival in 23rd. The Briton is stepping into a seat recently vacated by Daniil Move at Junior Lotus.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Esteban Guerrieri ISR 1m34.845s 2. Albert Costa Epsilon Euskadi 1m35.302s + 0.457s 3. Nelson Panciatici Junior Lotus 1m35.304s + 0.459s 4. Jake Rosenzweig Carlin 1m35.355s + 0.510s 5. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m35.447s + 0.602s 6. Keisuke Kunimoto Epsilon Euskadi 1m35.524s + 0.679s 7. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 1m35.658s + 0.813s 8. Mikhail Aleshin Carlin 1m35.715s + 0.870s 9. Filip Salaquarda ISR 1m36.055s + 1.210s 10. Salvador Duran FHV Interwetten 1m36.171s + 1.326s 11. Jon Lancaster Fortec 1m36.179s + 1.334s 12. Victor Garcia KMP 1m36.182s + 1.337s 13. Sergio Canamasas FHV Interwetten 1m36.280s + 1.435s 14. Julian Leal Draco 1m36.384s + 1.539s 15. Nathanael Berthon Draco 1m36.396s + 1.551s 16. Jan Charouz P1 1m36.418s + 1.573s 17. Stefano Coletti Comtec 1m36.493s + 1.648s 18. Daniel Zampieri Pons 1m36.596s + 1.751s 19. Daniel Ricciardo Tech 1 1m36.717s + 1.872s 20. Sten Pentus Fortec 1m36.774s + 1.929s 21. Federico Leo Pons 1m36.914s + 2.069s 22. Greg Mansell Comtec 1m36.932s + 2.087s 23. Dean Stoneman Junior Lotus 1m37.188s + 2.343s
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