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Sato sets record pace at Paul Ricard 15 Apr 2005

Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2005

BAR continued their testing revival in France on Thursday, finishing one-two in the times and with Takuma Sato dipping under the 63-second barrier to record a new unofficial lap record.

Together with their successful Barcelona session last week, the team are now confident that they have met their latest reliability and development objectives with the 007, including the introduction of new aerodynamic upgrades, which the team hope will boost them to their first points of the year at Imola next weekend.

"It has been a very enjoyable two tests since we came back from Bahrain,” said Sato after completing 179 laps of tyre evaluation on Thursday. “We have covered many miles mainly looking at aerodynamic, engine and tyre developments and we seem to have made good progress.

“Many teams will also improve but we are confident that we have made a good step forward and I'm feeling very positive about the performance of the car. I'm sure we can compete with a very strong race in Imola and am looking forward to the race weekend."

Sato’s form was backed up by that of team mate Jenson Button who finished just two tenths down on the Japanese star after 177 laps of aero and set-up work. "Today was a very good day,” he said. “We got through quite a lot and the car has been responding well. We mainly focused on long performance runs and tyre testing and the progress we have shown is encouraging. I am very much looking forward to racing in Imola next week."

BAR were due to continue testing on Friday, but with their programme complete they have decided to pack up early. Also finishing work on Thursday were Williams, who saw Antonio Pizzonia go third fastest after 155 laps. However, team mate Nick Heidfeld did just seven before withdrawing from the session with reported back pain.

“This week the main focus of the test was on the tyre compound choice for Imola,” explained Williams technical director Sam Michael. “Antonio and Nick drove on both days to work through the test program. The program also included setup work, traction control, brake cooling, continued mileage on the engine and evaluation of some new aero parts. On the Tuesday of next week, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team will undertake a shakedown test at Silverstone to sign off some electronics changes for the Imola GP.”

With rain predicted for Friday, Toyota also chose to wrap up their programme early, with Olivier Panis and Ricardo Zonta fourth and sixth fastest respectively. “We had a very good test, putting in a huge amount of laps over the two days,” reported Panis. “I feel good with the car and it still looks really competitive.

“I did some work on set-up and dampers and we tried out some different levels of downforce but most of my time was spent working on Michelin tyres for next week's San Marino Grand Prix. Imola is a circuit that is hard for graining, especially when the track is still dirty. Paul Ricard has a similar track surface and the harder tyres we've tried this week seem to work well.”

In the past, Toyota have struggled over Imola's kerbs. However, Zonta was confident their preparations for this year’s race have gone well: “Olivier and I have done some work on dampers here which should help, but you can never truly simulate Imola's unique kerbs. So, while I'm sure the car will be a lot better than it used to be, we still have some work to do and we will only really find out how far we've come on Friday or Saturday at the race.”

Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella was fifth fastest in the R25. Both he and team tester Franck Montagny (ninth) spent the day working on Michelin tyre development ahead of Imola. Renault too have decided not to run on Friday.

“After seeing the poor weather forecasts for tomorrow, we decided to bring our programme forward, and cram in as much work as possible today in Paul Ricard,” commented chief test engineer Christian Silk. “We have conducted two very productive test sessions since Bahrain, and are feeling optimistic as the fourth race of the season approaches.”

Rounding out the top ten in the timesheets was the Bridgestone-shod Jordan of Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian rookie was the busiest man on track, racking up over 180 laps in the Toyota-powered EJ15.

Conditions at Paul Ricard were again fine, with track temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius. However, with wet weather supposedly on the way, it remains to be seen if anyone will choose to run on Friday.

Elsewhere on Thursday, Ferrari were once again working at Fiorano and Mugello. At Fiorano, Michael Schumacher worked mainly on the F2005’s set-up, also trying various different types of Bridgestone tyre. He covered a total of 139 laps (four on the short course), the quickest a 57.651s.

At Mugello, Rubens Barrichello, also in an F2005, concentrated on set-up, tyres and aerodynamics, completing a total of 86 laps (11 on the short course), with a best time of 1m 21.303s. Ferrari continue testing at the same venues and with the same line-up on Friday.

Unofficial Wednesday times from Paul Ricard:
1. Takuma Sato, BAR (Michelin), 1:02.839
2. Jenson Button, BAR (Michelin), 1:03.093
3. Antonio Pizzonia, Williams (Michelin), 1:03.240
4. Olivier Panis, Toyota (Michelin), 1:03.312
5. Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault (Michelin), 1:03.554
6. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Michelin), 1:03.567
7. Alexander Wurz, McLaren (Michelin), 1:03.790
8. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:03.863
9. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:04.017
10. Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan (Bridgestone), 1:05.816
11. Nick Heidfeld, Williams (Michelin), 1:06.474