Sam Bird's flight to Mucke Motorsport did not hamper his front-running pace at the F3 Euroseries season-opener at Hockenheim, as the Briton claimed pole position in first qualifying with a lap of 1min 33.657secs around the German GP venue.
In a close-fought session, the 22-year old emerged 0.044secs faster than Prema Powerteam's Stefano Coletti as he found a last-minute break, with fellow returnee Mika Mäki edged onto row two for new team Signature, where he will share with Manor's Roberto Merhi, the first driver failing to break into the 1min 33secs bracket.
“I knew that qualifying would only be decided in the final minute," Bird confided, "This pole position is great, because I didn't have an easy time last year, and I hope that this fastest lap time is the first of a range of good results.”
Coletti, meanwhile, admitted to a tactical error that may have given the advantage to his rival.
“I was out with new tyres too early," he conceded, "Because of some dark clouds coming up, we decided to go out with new tyres a little earlier and, therefore, they weren't at their best anymore at the end of the session when the track was fastest. On top of that, I made a slight error on my last lap, which cost me pole position - but second place is great.“
Pre-season favourite Jules Bianchi could only manage fifth for ART Grand Prix, with the surprising Basil Shaaban claiming a row three spot for Prema, the first team to get two drivers on the timesheet.
The Motopark Academy team, a new entry to the Euroseries, enjoyed a solid debut with seventh place for Finnish driver Atte Mustonen, who makes the switch from the British series for 2009. Another Finn took best rookie honours, with ART's Valtteri Bottas lining up alongside his countryman in eighth place.
The top ten was rounded out by experienced F3 campaigners Jean-Karl Vernay (Signature) and Christian Vietoris, while SG Formula - recently confirmed as graduating to the World Series by Renault - just missed out on the leading group as Henkie Waldschmidt came up a tenth shy of Vietoris' time.
Carlin's British series convert, Brendon Hartley, was 14th on his full-time switch to Europe, coming in behind rookie Marco Wittmann and FBMW Europe champion Esteban Gutierrez but ahead of Briton Alex Sims, making his F3 debut alongside countryman Bird at Mucke.