The mid-season test at Circuit Paul Ricard in June was to end up being the turning point of the season. But as the drivers arrived, they were unaware of how important the next few days would be in the grander scheme of things. They were all in high spirits, all the better for a few weeks off, and all of them looking forward to a kart race which series organisers had prepared at the track for the evening before the test was due to start.
The race was set up with a lottery grid, with each driver being paired up with another GP2 series pilot that wasn't his regular team-mate. Following two five-minute practice/qualifying sessions, the race started in earnest: a one hour endurance run, with team-mates swapping driving duties every ten minutes.
Some driver change-overs went smoothly. Others did not. But it didn't really matter. The whole evening was taken as one big piece of fun, with some of the drivers, who found themselves in open air, often dropping back to indulge in some closer combat. Those who watched on laughed and joked at the manoeuvres their counterparts were attempting, with the ever animated (despite his jet-lag) Scott Speed bouncing around at the sight of Viso's somewhat … individual line through the chicane.
But when the hour was up, it was the pairing of Nelson Piquet Jr and Clivio Piccione who crossed the line first followed by the kart shared by Nicolas Lapierre and Ernesto Viso, with the team of Jose Maria Lopez and Ferdinando Monfardini in third.
A great evening was had by all, apart from maybe the karts themselves, who looked more than a little bruised after an hour of some of what was probably the hardest racing they'd seen in quite a while.
The next day, however, and they got down to work when the drivers hit the main track in their own cars to find an advantage to take with them to Magny Cours. Tuesday was cold and slightly damp, but ART were hard at work to allow Nico Rosberg to set the fastest time of the day before a huge rainstorm hit the track and hour before the test was set to finish.
The storm gave the teams the opportunity to do something they had not yet done – drive with their rain tyres – and all drivers hit the track with vigour to see how they handled. Their opinion was almost unanimous – the drivers loved the feel and grip of the wet weather rubber, and looked forward to using them again.
That opportunity wasn’t going to present itself on the next day, however, as the teams arrived at the track that morning to glorious sunshine. With temperatures soaring throughout the day Rosberg set the fastest lap in the morning session once again and, although Giorgio Pantano was fastest in the afternoon he was still almost four tenths off his rival’s time.
There were a lot of puzzled faces along the pitlane as they other teams tried to work out how ART had managed to find so much pace, and there was going to be a lot more scratching of heads when they arrived in Magny Cours a few weeks later…