P1 Motorsport's Giedo van der Garde celebrated his 23rd birthday in style by clinching pole position for the opening round of the 2008 World Series by Renault, underlining his status among the pre-season favourites.
The Dutchman had headed both sessions in Thursday's pre-race test and, despite missing out to Julien Jousse in morning practice at Monza, bounced back with the fastest time across the two qualifying groups - dictated by car number - in the afternoon. With the new Superpole system not due to be implemented until round two at Spa-Francorchamps, van der Garde will line up on pole, alongside winter pace-setter Robert Wickens, who topped the group one times.
Prema's Alvaro Barba was the first driver to clock a notable time in group one, with newcomer Pablo Sanchez and returnee Borja Garcia close behind. With only his second flying lap, however, Wickens moved his Red Bull Carlin car into provisional pole position, before improving his time to 1min 37.004secs with his very next attempt.
Marco Barba was determined to keep things in the family, moving his Draco entry up to third, slotting in behind brother Alvaro, but the show of unity did not last long, as the siblings were soon split by Comtec's Pasquale di Sabatino and Garcia.
As the chequered flag approached, Julian Theobald - Fortec Motorsport's last-minute signing - crashed at the second Lesmo, bringing out the red flag and ending the session prematurely.
With no-one able to muster a final flying lap, Wickens duly held on to top spot, giving the second group a target to aim at if they were to take pole. Alvaro Barba, di Sabatino and the surprising Pippa Mann, who appeared to have kick-started P1's qualifying effort in fourth spot. Her fastest time was subsequently cancelled, however, as it was adjudged to have come while the red flag was out.
Dropping back to tenth in group, Mann conceded fourth place to Charles Pic, who will now start from the front row in race one, as the series implements the reversed top eight portion - involving the top four from each group - of its new qualifying procedure.
Knowing their target, Group B set about the task of trying to beat Wickens' mark, but early progress - in which Interwetten's Salvador Duran led Comtec's Marco Bonanomi and Jousse - was interrupted by a yellow flag to cover Aleix Alcaraz's crashed RC entry.
When the caution was removed, a flurry of quick times pushed van der Garde to the head of the pack, the Dutchman's 1min 36.941secs effort already good enough to ensure that his group would be the fastest of the day.