British driver David Coulthard has recorded the fastest time in practice for Sunday's French Grand Prix auto race. Coulthard sped his McLaren-Mercedes around the Magny-Cours circuit in a time (1:14.025) that was only about .15 faster than Finnish teammate Kimi Raikkonen (1:14.097).

Formula One leader Michael Schumacher of Germany steered his Ferrari to the third best time (1:14.240). He was followed by teammate Rubens Barrichello of Brazil (1:14.750) and brother Ralf Schumacher of BMW-Williams (1:14.970).

Coulthard said the results on Friday were encouraging, but that the real challenges are still to come. The qualifying competition for the pole position is on Saturday. Drivers typically save their full power for the race.

Michael Schumacher has a commanding 54-point lead over second-place Barrichello in the season points standings after 10 of 17 races. The German is heavily favored to win a record-tying fifth championship this year.

Michael Schumacher could clinch the title in record time at Magny-Cours if he takes first place on Sunday and neither Barrichello nor Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya of BMW-Williams takes second place.

Arrows' Formula One team does plan to race its cars in Sunday's French Grand Prix despite financial problems that kept them out of Friday's practice sessions. Team director Tom Walkinshaw said the Britain-based team was talking with three different groups of investors to resolve its financials problems.

The company has not released details of its new woes, only saying that it concerned a single shareholder. Race organizers did not confirm the eligibility of Arrows racer Enrique Bernoldi of Brazil until Friday morning. At Silverstone, Ford-owned Cosworth Racing had prohibited the team from using its engines until it paid off a debt reportedly close to $5 million.