After setting best time in the collective tests, Robert Shwartzman (R-ace GP) kept his momentum going in claiming the first pole on offer at Circuit Paul Ricard. On Sunday, the Russian driver will start ahead of the leader in the general classification Sacha Fenestraz (Josef Kaufmann Racing) and Gabriel Aubry (Tech 1 Racing). Tomorrow, the Formula Renault Eurocup field will take part in the second qualifying session to determine the start grid for race one that will also take place on Saturday.
Fenestraz fires the first salvo in the collective tests
Under clear skies, the R-ace GP drivers took turns leading the way before Sacha Fenestraz pulled ahead. The Frenchman and rookie Yifei Ye (Josef Kaufmann Racing) improved five minutes from the end of the session, but Sacha Fenestraz finished on top with a time of 2:05.099. Max Fewtrell (Tech 1 Racing), Gabriel Aubry and wild-card entry Michael Benyahia (R-ace GP) completed the top five.
In the afternoon, Will Palmer, Max Defourny and Robert Shwartzman swapped best time with the Russian getting the nod. While Max Defourny was the first to improve on the morning benchmark time, Robert Shwartzman stopped the clock in 2:04.600 to end the session ahead of Sacha Fenestraz, Max Defourny, Will Palmer and rookie Alexander Vartanyan (JD Motorsport).
Fifth pole of the year for Shwartzman
In the first group on track in Q1, Sacha Fenestraz set the time to beat in 2:05.077 ahead of Max Defourny and Will Palmer. In the second group, Robert Shwartzman went quicker with a best lap of 2:04.783, 7/10ths of a second ahead of Gabriel Aubry.
On Sunday, Robert Shwartzman will start on pole ahead of Sacha Fenestraz, Gabriel Aubry, Max Defourny and Red Bull Junior Team driver Daniel Ticktum (Arden Motorsport), who was best among the rookies in qualifying.
Tomorrow, the drivers will contest Q2 at 11:10 to determine the start grid for race one schedule for 15:00.
Robert Shwartzman (R-ace GP): “It is always good to be on pole, even if this one was quite easy to get! Right from the collective tests, I pushed to show our pace. The team did a great job and everything went the way we wanted it to! To take the pole with by 7/10ths of a second is excellent. We’ve found good speed in these hot conditions. Tomorrow, I will give it my all again in qualifying. I think I have chance to get a second pole this weekend, which would be the first time this season!”
“It is always good to be on pole, even if this one was quite easy to get! Right from the collective tests, I pushed to show our pace. The team did a great job and everything went the way we wanted it to! To take the pole with by 7/10ths of a second is excellent.”
Sacha Fenestraz (Josef Kaufmann Racing): "Contrary to what I expected, the morning session on the return to action was very good with the best time of the first session. In the afternoon, I didn’t progress as much as my rivals. That said there was nothing surprising as I expect to battle with Robert Shwartzman and Will Palmer until the end of the season. I could’ve done better in qualifying had I not made a small mistake at turn one and tyre degradation is very important here. I also knew that the track would improve later. I hope the advantage will turn in our favour in Q2!”
Gabriel Aubry (Tech 1 Racing): “It was a difficult day. This morning, we were quite far off the pace of the R-ace GP and Josef Kaufmann Racing guys, but we managed to limit the damage in qualifying. We have a lot of work to do tonight to close the gap to the leaders. We will have to gain ground tomorrow and I want to score as many points as I can to solidify fourth place in the general classification. It will be very hard to get back in title contention, but the podium in the championship is the minimum goal.”
Daniel Ticktum (Arden Motorsport): “Our pre-season tests at Circuit Paul Ricard were bad. We were quite slow in dry conditions and we tried to understand why in order to improve. Alas, this morning began the same way and it was difficult to know where we were with just one set of tyres, especially on a track that is hard on the tyres. In the afternoon, I was in traffic on my first two laps on new tyres. We were a little worried, but things were much better after a few changes to solve an instability issue at turn entry. There is more work to do, but I was able to attack and pick up time. We can still go quicker to catch the experienced drivers, but I have to be realistic. I don’t think we have the pace this weekend to race for the win. To finish in the top five will be a good result.”