Matias Laine and Aaro Vainio - Photo Credit: Daniel Kalisz/GP3 Media Service

It was a good start to the season for Finns Laine and Vainio, who were first and third in opening practice - Photo Credit: Daniel Kalisz/GP3 Media Service

MW Arden finished the free practice session for the first GP3 Series round of 2012 in first and second place on the timing screens, but it wasn’t their pre-season favourite Mitch Evans who was ahead of the pack.

It was Finland’s Matias Laine, who only managed a best result of 14th last season with Marussia Manor, who posted the fastest time. The 22-year-old has been a constant frontrunner during winter testing and again displayed his pace in this morning’s 45 minute free practice session, moving ahead with 20 minutes remaining. He displaced his teammate and GP3 debutant David Fumanelli, ending up 0.099 seconds clear of the Italian.

Laine’s compatriot Aaro Vainio was third quickest, 0.185s away from Laine and narrowly ahead of his Lotus GP teammates Conor Daly and Daniel Abt who took fourth and fifth. New Zealander Evans was sixth, 0.330s adrift of Laine.

It was another expected contender Antonio Felix da Costa who was seventh fastest, just ahead of Carlin teammate Alex Brundle, who was an impressive eighth quickest in his first session at a Grand Prix weekend. Second-year drivers Tamas Pal Kiss and Marlon Stockinger completed the top ten.

Jenzer Motorsport rookies Robert Visoiu and Patric Niederhauser were 11th and 13th respectively, separated by the third Carlin entry of William Buller. Reigning Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon was 14th for Ocean Racing Technology, ahead of Status Grand Prix‘s Kotaro Sakurai and Dmitry Suranovich, who ended up the fastest of Marussia Manor Racing‘s driver trio.

Antonio Spavone was 17th for Trident Racing ahead of American rookie Ethan Ringel (Atech CRS GP) and Marussia Manor’s Fabiano Machado. A broken turbo pipe restricted Alice Powell to 20th place, ahead of John Wartique, Vicky Piria, Carmen Jorda, Robert Cregan and Jakub Klasterka – who was driving the GP3 car for the first time.

Tio Ellinas stopped on track with gearbox problems before he was able to set a flying lap.

The drivers return to the track at 08:45 BST on Saturday for qualifying.