Mitch Evans got his bid to become GP3 Series champion at Monza this weekend off to a good start by topping the Friday free practice session.

The New Zealander became the first driver to go below 1m45, and although he was temporarily relegated by rival Aaro Vainio, he returned to P1 with a 1m44.477s in the final minute of the session.

Evans’ MW Arden teammate Matias Laine continued the strong form that saw him get his first GP3 win at Spa to take P2, just 0.043s slower around the legendary Italian venue.

Laine’s fellow Finn Vainio was third. The Lotus GP driver comes into the weekend in third place in the standings, 24.5 points adrift of Evans. The third Arden machine of Italian David Fumanelli was fourth, ahead of Lotus’ Daniel Abt, who is the outsider coming into the weekend. The German is fourth, 35 points adrift with 48 up for grabs.

Dmitry Suranovich was an impressive sixth and the first driver from outside the Arden and Lotus teams. The Russian rookie is still chasing his first top ten finish. Tamas Pal Kiss set the seventh fastest time, but in the process he received a ten-place grid penalty for the weekend’s first race after colliding with Fabiano Machado at the Parabolica.

Giovanni Venturini, a first-time winner in Auto GP the last time he raced at Monza, was eighth, ahead of William Buller and Robert Visoiu.

Evans’ chief rival Antonio Felix da Costa – 21.5 points off the lead – was only 15th fastest, 1.3s off the pace.

Qualifying takes place at 8:00 BST.