Stoneman tops Brands Hatch practice
Dean Stoneman set the pace in the opening free practice session at Brands Hatch in one of the closest sessions of the season so far.
The Briton topped the times late on, as the top six drivers were separated by just two tenths of a second. Stoneman even had time to make light contact with the barrier at Stirling's following his flying lap, but the 19-year-old recovered to the pit lane without damage.
Stoneman's compatriot Tom Gladdis continued his impressive return to Formula Two after the 19-year-old went second quickest as the checkered flag fell. The youngest driver in the field has been missing since the opening round at Silverstone after budget problems curtailed his campaign. Gladdis was a consistent front-runner during Tuesday's test day at the Kent circuit however, and he has continued that rich vein of form here this morning.
Gladdis' last-gasp effort, which was just 0.034s slower than Stoneman's benchmark time, demoted Philipp Eng, the Austrian ending less than three hundredths behind the series returnee. Eng is facing a pivotal weekend in his bid to win the title after losing ground to both Stoneman and Jolyon Palmer in recent rounds.
Russian racer Sergey Afanasiev declared his performance as 'too slow' this morning, which is even more impressive considering he was only one tenth of a second off the ultimate pace. The Lukoil-backed driver claimed fourth ahead of fellow countryman Ivan Samarin - who scored his best practice result of the season so far.
Zolder race winner Benjamin Bailly completed the top six order, ahead of Briton Will Bratt, who previously dominated much of the test day earlier in the week. The closeness continued throughout the field as Armaan Ebrahim pipped Jack Clarke by 0.007s, while Ricardo Teixeira rounded out of the ten just over six tenths of a second slower than Stoneman.
Mihai Marinescu, Kazim Vasiliauskas and Julian Theobald were next up on the timesheets, as the top 13 drivers were incredibly separated by less than one second. Championship leader Jolyon Palmer could only manage 14th, and he also recovered from a trip through the gravel at Graham Hill Bend.