Nico Hulkenberg will attempt to become the first man to take back-to-back victories in the F3 Masters event from pole position after setting the pace during qualifying at the Belgian circuit.
The ART Grand Prix man left it until the final lap of qualifying to post his quickest lap, with a time of 1min 24.280secs proving to be enough to demote his team-mate Jules Bianchi to the second slot on the grid.
Hulkenberg has earlier left it lap to post his quickest lap during the opening qualifying sessions, which saw the field split into two groups based on odd and even race numbers. With the top ten from each session then going through to fight for the top 20 places on the grid for the race itself, Hulkenberg duly set the pace amongst the 'odd' runners as he headed Prema pairing Stefano Coletti and Renger van der Zande and the Carlin duo Richard Philippe and Brendon Hartley.
Christian Vietoris, Michael Devaney, Jon Lancaster, Nick Tandy and Roberto Mehri completed the drivers to progress through to the leading qualifying group although there was disappointment for a number of fancied runners including Sam Bird, Yann Clairay and Atte Mustonen who found themselves outside the top ten and were left to go through the second qualifying group to fight for positions 21-37 on the grid.
Amongst the 'even' runners, Mika Maki set the pace for Mucke Motorsport, a tenth of a second clear of Koudai Tsukakoshi and nearly half a second clear of Jules Bianchi. Current British F3 points leader Jaime Alguersuari was fourth ahead of Dani Clos, while Rodolfo Gonzalez, Max Chilton, Henkie Waldschmidt, Euroseries championship leader Edoardo Mortara and Daniel Campos-Hull all took their places in Group A for the final phase of qualifying.
When the final phase of qualifying kicked off, it was Bianchi who proved to be the man to beat and he looked to set to take pole for the race thanks to a best time of 1min 24.550secs when the session was red-flagged after an off for Prema ace Clos.
However, with the Spaniard's car removed from the circuit, there was time for the drivers' to complete just two more laps and Hulkenberg was able to jump ahead of his team-mate on the grid as ART secured a lock-out of the front row.
“Qualifying wasn't easy,” Hulkenberg admitted. “After the red flag, I knew that I couldn't drive many laps anymore. On my fastest lap, I also had to overtake Michael Devaney. But I remained calm and it was enough. In the end, it was a matter of nerves.”
Bianchi had to settle for second place, while the second row of the grid was headed by van der Zande and Tsukakoshi. Stefano Colleti was fifth fastest and will be joined on the third row by the quickest of the British F3 brigade after Hitech driver Chilton posted an impressive sixth quickest time. Lancaster, Maki, Hartley and Campos-Hull completed the top ten.
For some of the drivers in the second qualifying group, it was very much a case of what might have been, with Dillman setting a time that would have put him fifth on the grid had he been in the top group. Instead he took 21st on the grid ahead of Bird – who also set a time that would have been good enough for a slot in the top ten.
Clairay was third amongst the Group B runners with Mustonen fourth, Jakes fifth and Janis sixth.