Davide Valsecchi continued to set the pace in the GP2 Asia Series opener at the new Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, claiming pole position for the winter season opener on Saturday.

The iSport International driver was not to be denied what was, surprisingly, his first 'earned' GP2 pole, building on the dominance he showed during the morning's free practice session, where he had led by a massive 1.4secs. Although qualifying was closer, the Italian remained on top with a lap of 1min 51.964secs, which he clocked after only four laps.

As track temperature rose to 44?C by the time the pit-lane opened, rapid rookie Alexander Rossi set the initial pace for Ocean Racing Technology, but the American was soon denied top spot as Valsecchi took the advantage with his first flying lap. Fellow veteran Roldan Rodriguez, Diego Nunes and the impressive Fabio Leimer - the latter forming an inexperienced line-up at Ocean - all successively bettered the Italian's time, but Valsecchi would not let them remain on top for long, eventually reclaiming pole.

The one man who appeared most likely to stop Valsecchi's run to glory, countryman Luca Filippi, moved up to third position mid-session, but, having set the quickest lap during last week's pre-season tests, the Meritus driver suddenly slowed at turn 19 with a gearbox selection problem.

Through the pretenders, however, came debutant Sam Bird, who kept summer series champions ART at the sharp end by claiming a late second place ahead of Leimer, while Filippi - despite missing half of the session - managed to qualify fourth.

The Italian veteran will be followed by Rodriguez, Rodolfo Gonzalez (Arden), James Jakes (Super Nova), Johnny Cecotto (Trident), Josef Kral (Super Nova) and Giacomo Ricci (DPR) in the top ten, the latter having secured his place with his final lap of the half-hour session.

Further back, meanwhile, All-Japan F3 champion Marcus Ericsson managed only 15th spot, having been Valsecchi's closest challenger in free practice, putting the Swede behind Edoardo Piscopo, Italian F3 champion Daniel Zampieri, Rossi and Christian Vietoris.

Right at the back, however, relative unknown Plamen Kralev was a massive four seconds off the pace of second slowest driver Will Bratt, and 6.2secs off Valsecchi's pace....