Albert Costa shone on home soil to top both of Friday's free practice sessions in Catalunya.
The Spaniard set the quickest time in the morning session with a 1:34.437s to pip Walter Grubmuller by 0.144secs.
His subsequent time of 1:34.268 in the afternoon session was also enough to retain top spot as he just edged out impressive newcomer Nick Yelloly by 0.153 secs.
Costa, who had severe budget concerns prior to his home event, also benefitted from an extra set of tyres which are allocated for his team's home event.
The Epic Racing driver said: “First this morning and first this afternoon: that's the first time I've managed that in Formula Renault 3.5 Series. I've been thinking about nothing else than this weekend for the last two weeks.
“I need a win and I want to finish third in the championship, which would be important for my future. The easiest way to avoid getting caught up in the battle between Wickens and Vergne is to finish ahead of them.”
Speaking of the two title contenders, they had a rather low-key opening to this very important weekend.
Wickens was sixth quickest in the first collective test before improving up the order to third in the second session, just shy of the impressive Costa.
However, he will be pleased to have set the early pace over championship challenger Vergne, who could only manage 12th and 11th over the two sessions.
Wickens, who has a two point advantage over team mate Vergne, said: “The key this weekend is not to change things and just carry on as usual. It's when you make changes that you make mistakes. I'm happy with my season no matter what happens now.
“Carlin have always given us fantastic equipment and I know they'll be doing everything they can again this weekend to prepare two perfect cars for us.”
Collective Test One
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Albert Costa Epic 1m34.437s 2. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m34.581s + 0.144s 3. Alexander Rossi Fortec 1m34.592s + 0.155s 4. Nathanael Berthon ISR 1m34.640s + 0.203s 5. Daniil Move P1 1m34.797s + 0.360s 6. Robert Wickens Carlin 1m34.862s + 0.425s 7. Fairuz Fauzy Mofaz 1m35.243s + 0.806s 8. Sergio Canamasas BVM Target 1m35.272s + 0.835s 9. Nick Yelloly Pons 1m35.360s + 0.923s 10. Oliver Webb Pons 1m35.403s + 0.966s 11. Daniel Zampieri BVM Target 1m35.432s + 0.995s 12. Jean-Eric Vergne Carlin 1m35.433s + 0.996s 13. Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz 1m35.484s + 1.047s 14. Stephane Richelmi Draco 1m35.560s + 1.123s 15. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz 1m35.590s + 1.153s 16. Nelson Panciatici KMP 1m35.626s + 1.189s 17. Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 1m35.646s + 1.209s 18. Kevin Korjus Tech 1 1m35.678s + 1.241s 19. Cesar Ramos Fortec 1m35.738s + 1.301s 20. Daniel McKenzie Comtec 1m35.942s + 1.505s 21. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 1m35.999s + 1.562s 22. Sten Pentus Epic 1m36.433s + 1.996s 23. Adrien Tambay Draco 1m36.447s + 2.010s 24. Arthur Pic Tech 1 1m36.642s + 2.205s 25. Daniel de Jong Comtec 1m36.645s + 2.208s
Collective Test Two
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Albert Costa Epic 1m34.268s 2. Nick Yelloly Pons 1m34.421s + 0.153s 3. Robert Wickens Carlin 1m34.462s + 0.194s 4. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 1m34.502s + 0.234s 5. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m34.678s + 0.410s 6. Daniel Zampieri BVM Target 1m34.804s + 0.536s 7. Brendon Hartley Gravity-Charouz 1m34.899s + 0.631s 8. Sergio Canamasas BVM Target 1m34.996s + 0.728s 9. Oliver Webb Pons 1m35.000s + 0.732s 10. Daniil Move P1 1m35.096s + 0.828s 11. Jean-Eric Vergne Carlin 1m35.097s + 0.829s 12. Nelson Panciatici KMP 1m35.185s + 0.917s 13. Nathanael Berthon ISR 1m35.283s + 1.015s 14. Alexander Rossi Fortec 1m35.342s + 1.074s 15. Kevin Korjus Tech 1 1m35.347s + 1.079s 16. Stephane Richelmi Draco 1m35.472s + 1.204s 17. Arthur Pic Tech 1 1m35.473s + 1.205s 18. Sten Pentus Epic 1m35.490s + 1.222s 19. Adrien Tambay Draco 1m35.609s + 1.341s 20. Jake Rosenzweig Mofaz 1m35.813s + 1.545s 21. Cesar Ramos Fortec 1m35.819s + 1.551s 22. Jan Charouz Gravity-Charouz 1m36.101s + 1.833s 23. Fairuz Fauzy Mofaz 1m36.356s + 2.088s 24. Daniel de Jong Comtec 1m36.469s + 2.201s 25. Daniel McKenzie Comtec 1m37.209s + 2.941s