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.

Related Articles

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.

Draco's Bertrand Baguette moved into second, with Bonanomi third, but the target moved again when an der Garde improved to 1min 36.480secs on his next flying lap. Bonanomi also improved, but only by enough to overtake Baguette, who then fell back two places as Fabio Carbone and Duran moved up into third and fourth respectively. The Belgian was only able to reclaim fourth place with a determined final run.

"It was a nice way to celebrate my birthday, and it's also just reward for P1 Motorsport," van der Garde said of his pole, "Everyone has worked really hard to make sure we were ready for today. I'll have to be cautious in the first race and try and finish in the top three - then I have to win race two."

With the qualifying procedure not running its full course, both van der Garde and Wickens will be awarded the four points for 'pole'.

"I did what I had to do," the Canadian commented, "My season has started with four points, which is a real positive. We have been among the leaders throughout and that can only be a good sign for the races."