Danny Watts belied the fact that he was making his qualifying debut for Team GBR and that the squad had done hardly any running before the timed session, to secure pole position for Sunday's A1GP feature race at Chengdu.
Having earlier posted the fourth-best time in a truncated qualifying session for the sprint race, Watts pulled out a blistering lap in the second half of the session to claim top spot in the feature on Team GBR's return to action after being forced to miss the opening round at Zandvoort last month.
After delays in the team getting its hands on the new Ferrari-built machine, Porsche Supercup racer Watts only stepped into the cockpit for the first time on Friday morning, but used his previous single-seater experience - which includes beating Lewis Hamilton to the 2002 Formula Renault Championship - to quickly dial himself into the action.
Having taken time to learn the Chinese circuit, which debuts on the A1GP schedule this year, he proved consistently competitive in practice, and then found himself in the thick of the qualifying fight with regular rivals Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“Friday morning was the first time we'd worked on the car and, as we missed the first race, we were playing catch up - but the boys are on top of it," Watts noted at the end of the first day, "The track here at Chengdu is very difficult and bumpy, so we've just been exploring different avenues to find out about the car and find out what makes it tick.
"We have to find a compromise with the set-up to deal with the bumpy, twisty section in the middle and the long straight, [but] I think they'll be a lot of overtaking opportunities in the race. It's been a positive start early on, we're going in the right direction and we look fairly competitive at this stage. Overall, it's been going well and we'll keep working away – the boys are doing an incredible job.”
In each of the three qualifying sessions run, Team GBR opted to head out right at the end of the ten-minute window to get the track at its optimum temperature and grip. Watts fought hard in the first of the scheduled sprint qualifying sessions, setting the fourth fastest time on his first attempt but aiming to improve in the second segment, only to find it cancelled after Team Italy.
With the sprint race grid thus formed from the times in the first session, Watts was keen to show what could have been possible had he run again, and blitzed the opening half of feature race qualifying with a lap of 1min 15.325secs that proved unbeatable for the rest of the afternoon.
“It has been an amazing few days," the driver admitted, "We really are lucky to be here as, just a few days ago, the car was still in bits. All credit has to go to the team and I thank them for their hard work. They have worked through the nights since they arrived in China, and they've only had four hours sleep the last two nights, so this makes it all worth it.