Théo Pourchaire ended in-season testing in Barcelona as the fastest man across the three days, setting a 1:23.943 on the final morning to top Day 3 for ART Grand Prix. He heads to Imola with the lead of the Drivers’ Championship and fully satisfied that the team got through all that it had planned this week.

Opting to save tyres on Day 2 to utilise on the final day, Pourchaire recovered from an early morning spin to be the only driver to break into the 1:23s all week. It’s form that he hopes to carry into Imola in a week’s time.

“It went pretty well today. We kept some new soft tyres for this morning compared to the others. I think two or three other teams did as well, but not a lot of people. We focused on the qualifying pace this morning, which was important because we did only some small Qualifying runs yesterday evening to try some different setups on the car. This morning was good, it was a cool lap and we're just trying a few things, it's only testing but we need to keep going like this.”

READ MORE: Pourchaire quickest of all on final day of Barcelona in-season test

ART have started 2023 with some sublime single lap speed. Pourchaire took the first pole of the season in Sakhir by 0.7s, a feat teammate Victor Martins achieved one round later in Jeddah.

Having been able to produce another quick lap around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the Frenchman believes it bodes very well for the next phase of the campaign as F2 heads to the European heart of the season.

“For sure it's very good to end up quickest. I'm sure the other drivers are really quick as well. They were probably trying some things too over the last three days and we still have the rest of the season to go.

“This is the only time where we can try many things and crazy things on the cars as well. We need to have answers about everything, but it's good and it was important to do a good lap and I'm happy. It's a good confidence boost for the next races.

“In the end, we know we are quick in Barcelona and it’s the final part of the next triple-header, so it's very important to have been quick here. Imola last year was really good for me as well. I won the Feature Race, and Monaco – it’s not perfect every time for me, but it's good. I would say it's not a bad place for me. So, three different tracks but classic European tracks we know we can be fast around, it's good.”

Scoring points in all but one round so far this season, Pourchaire has been one of the most consistent points-scorers on the grid this year. After his disappointment last season at having fallen away in the title fight due to non-scoring results, the ART man says that his approach this year is to ensure he’s in the hunt wherever possible.

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“It's very nice to be leading the Championship but it's still very early in the season and it’s still very tight. I'm only three points in front of Frederik Vesti, so it’s early to talk about Championship fights but, it's the best place possible to be, P1. We will try our best to keep that up.

“I'm happy with the beginning of the season because we are consistent. I did some mistakes in Jeddah, a mistake in the Sprint Race and then we were not good in the Feature, but that's the only weekend we didn't score any points. So apart from that, it's been a really positive start.

“I’ve been focusing on consistency, first of all in Qualifying and then in the Feature Races because the Qualifying is very important in Formula 2. To be able to start in the front for the Feature, it's so important. You have a better opportunity to score good points and to fight with the fast guys and maybe we can beat them in the strategy side of things.

“We don't need to be 100% lucky every time to try and win races. So now it's very important to be top three or top five in Qualifying, and that's very good improvement from my side as well compared to last year, and I'm happy.”

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Heading to Imola, scene of his second race victory in 2022, Pourchaire says that the old-school track demands a lot from the drivers but makes for a rewarding challenge to conquer. Winning from seventh on the Feature Race grid last year, he knows that there is some potential for the unexpected.

“Imola is always a very nice track, very narrow and really difficult to drive on. It might rain, the weather is always very unpredictable but let's see. In the dry, it’s difficult and demanding. There’s a lot of bumps, blind corners. Aqua Minerale - the downhill fast right-hander is very impressive in a Formula 2 car, so it’s a nice challenge.”

As the Championship leader, it’s natural for Pourchaire to have a target on his back as the driver his rivals will be aiming to beat. It’s a scenario that’s hardly new to the ART driver, competing in his third F2 season and with title fight experience under his belt at just 19 years old.

That has had an impact on his approach to races this year. Pourchaire says that having been able to fight at the front for multiple seasons in F2, his approach to 2023 is to take things one race at a time, keep composed and let the results do the talking.

“I'm relaxed. I’m just taking it race after race just trying to do a good job. I know I have a really good team behind me. I now have some good experience in Formula 2, it's my third season but I'm still young and I still have to learn many things and I will still discover many things. But, I try to be as relaxed as possible and to do the job, session after session.

“It's so important to build the weekend really strong from Free Practice then Qualifying and then to not make any crazy mistakes in race one, bring the car home and then do a good Feature. So, my confidence is in a good place, I’m relaxed.”