British F3 championship leader Daniel Ricciardo set the pace at the Portimao circuit in Portugal today, ahead of the penultimate round of the 2009 Cooper Tires British F3 Series. 20 year-old Ricciardo, who holds a 45 point lead in the championship standings, set the quickest overall time in practice this afternoon while team mate Max Chilton also enjoyed a strong outing to set the third quickest time overall.

Following a four week break since the last round at Silverstone, the Carlin drivers took to the track this morning as the first British F3 event at Portimao got underway. With an extended practice session of one and half hours to help the drivers acclimatise to the new circuit, all four of Carlin’s Volkswagen powered runners finished in the top 12, despite the increased level of competition following the participation of several F3 Euro Series drivers. Joe Ghanem made a strong F3 debut in his Carlin National Class car, finishing the session third in his class.

The second session of the day saw Ricciardo and Chilton battling for the top spot, despite two red flag periods interrupting Chilton’s new tyre run. In the end it was Ricciardo who claimed the top spot, with visiting F3 Euro Series driver Valterri Bottas taking second with Chilton just behind in third.

Ricciardo said, “I really like this circuit and enjoyed getting to grips with it this afternoon. It’s really hot and sunny here too, which makes a change to some of the British rounds this year! Hopefully we can build on this performance and carry our strong pace into qualifying tomorrow, when it really matters.”

Team principal Trevor Carlin added, “We’re very pleased with the team’s performance today, the engineers have done a great job to prepare the set up for this new circuit. Even though Daniel’s a bit under the weather he’s done some great laps, closely followed by Max. Philip continues to make great strides forward and finished the morning twelfth, which was very impressive considering the quality of the field. Henry had a very good first session, but a car problem compromised his speed this afternoon.”

Qualifying for round 17 will take place at 11.00 tomorrow, with qualifying for round 18 at 13.35.