Carlin's Jean-Eric Vergne boosted his ambitions of overhauling teammate Robert Wickens in the Formula Renault 3.5 title race by setting a blistering pace in the opening free practice session at Paul Ricard.
Entering this penultimate round of the championship, six drivers have a mathematical chance of winning the championship. Wickens' double victory at the last meeting at Silverstone in August has moved him a solid 34 points clear of Vergne at the head of the drivers' standings, but the Canadian trailed Vergne by 0.673sec in this morning's session.
"It is only free practice so the times don't mean too much, and perhaps we were running different setups," said Vergne. "Losing at Silverstone makes me really hungry and angry as well.
"I really don't think too much about the championship, just about winning this race. Winter testing didn't go that well for us here, and actually this is going to be my first race at Paul Ricard."
A decision on Carlin's appeal against Vergne's penalty for maintaining position by cutting a chicane at Monza in May is due to be announced this weekend, and could affect the points situation.
After previous visits to Le Mans and Magny-Cours, the French round of the World Series by Renault package is visiting Le Castellet for the maiden time. However, teams have extensive knowledge of the track as it is used regularly for winter testing.
Epic Racing's Albert Costa ended the morning third fastest, ahead of P1 Racing's Daniil Move.
Costa, Tech 1 Racing's Kevin Korjus and Fortec's Alexander Rossi will be aiming to steal HRT Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo's current third place in the championship.
Ricciardo, who finished down in 17th for ISR this morning, is making his final scheduled appearance in the series as he will skip the Barcelona finale to contest the clashing Japanese Grand Prix.
A late effort from Brendon Hartley (Gravity-Charouz) moved the Kiwi ahead of Costa's Epic Racing teammate Sten Pentus into fifth.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Jean-Eric Vergne Carlin 1m52.469s
2. Robert Wickens Carlin 1m53.142s + 0.673s
3. Albert Costa Epic 1m53.368s + 0.899s
4. Daniil Move P1 1m53.378s + 0.909s
5. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz 1m53.443s + 0.974s
6. Sten Pentus Epic 1m53.491s + 1.022s
7. Kevin Korjus Tech 1 1m53.533s + 1.064s
8. Nelson Panciatici KMP 1m53.565s + 1.096s
9. Stephane Richelmi Draco 1m53.828s + 1.359s
10. Cesar Ramos Fortec 1m54.059s + 1.590s
11. Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 1m54.061s + 1.592s
12. Alexander Rossi Fortec 1m54.096s + 1.627s
13. Daniel de Jong Comtec 1m54.102s + 1.633s
14. Daniel McKenzie Comtec 1m54.152s + 1.683s
15. Sergio Canamasas BVM Target 1m54.235s + 1.766s
16. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m54.285s + 1.816s
17. Daniel Ricciardo ISR 1m54.465s + 1.996s
18. Nick Yelloly Pons 1m54.588s + 2.119s
19. Nathanael Berthon ISR 1m54.742s + 2.273s
20. Daniel Zampieri BVM Target 1m54.789s + 2.320s
21. Andre Negrao Draco 1m54.809s + 2.340s
22. Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz 1m54.886s + 2.417s
23. Oliver Webb Pons 1m55.412s + 2.943s
24. Arthur Pic Tech 1 1m55.687s + 3.218s
25. Fairuz Fauzy Mofaz 1m55.731s + 3.262s
26. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 1m56.312s + 3.843s