A brilliant late effort by Alexander Smolyar put the Tech1 Racing driver at the top of the timesheets in the opening Formula Renault Northern European Cup practice session on the streets of Pau.
The late switch to fresh tyres from several drivers in the closing stages saw lap times tumble, but Smolyar’s best effort of 1:14.638 in the dying embers was enough to edge out MP Motorsport’s Alex Peroni by a tenth of a second.
A hat-trick of R-ace GP cars rounded out the top five, with NEC race winner Charles Milesi leading Eurocup team-mates Victor Martins and Logan Sargeant.
Less than half a tenth prevented Red Bull-backed Neil Verhagen from breaking into that group, with Tech1 team-mate Frank Bird behind in seventh.
Renault Sport Academy drivers Christian Lundgaard (MP Motorsport) and Arthur Rougier (Fortec Motorsport) came next, with Thomas Neubauer (Tech1) rounding out the top ten.
Gabriel Gandulia converted his extensive winter testing program into a strong performance, setting the quickest time amongst the full-season NEC entries with a 1:17.755, just over half a tenth ahead of Anders Motorsport’s Doureid Ghattas.
Team-mate Phil Hill, the Formula Motorsport duo of Nicolas Melin and Pironneau, ScoRace Team’s Sharon Scolari and Lamo Racing Car driver Thierry Malhomme round out the field.
The second practice session in the south of France gets underway at 15:15 CEST.
Alexander Smolyar (#22) said, “The circuit is really fun, it’s my first time on a street track and it was just amazing. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought before, we just had some mistakes but we know what we’ll do on the next run. We’ll fix it and be as fast as we are now later in second practice.
“It’s a bit different being here compared to other races, but I’m still amazed. I’m looking everywhere because it’s my first time on a street track and it’s so interesting. I’m really happy to be a part of the street race here.”
Gabriel Gandulia (#5) said, “I didn’t know I was the fastest of the NEC drivers, my goal was just to stay on track and find the limits and compare the difference with my team-mates in the Eurocup.
“We have a lot to improve yet in the first two sectors, but it’s nice to start the first session in a good position on the timesheets. This event is quite important, I’ve seen a lot of publicity, and here everybody in Pau knows the Grand Prix is happening, and that’s really cool.”