Romain Grosjean got Dams' year off to a flying start by claiming the first pole position of the 2011 GP2 Asia season, easily holding off the rest of the field.
The ex-Formula 1 driver - who won the first GP2 Asia season in 2008 - put in a lap time of 1:36.041s that dominated the half hour session, ending up over 0.4s ahead of his closest competition, fellow French F1 reserve driver Jules Bianchi in the Lotus ART. Bianchi's attempts to best Grosjean were thwarted by traffic and by running wide on his final runs.
Grosjean declared himself delighted with pole. "It feels really great because we had a difficult time last week during the tests," he said at the post-qualifying press conference. "On the last day of testing we were a bit lost. We didn't understand very well what was wrong, but today we could put everything together.
"I knew my first lap wasn't bad and then I could improve so basically it is great for the team and for me," he continued. "But the race will be long tomorrow and we don't know how the [new Pirelli] tyres will behave through the race. So let's see tomorrow what we can do but it is always good to be on pole."
"I was quite confident but like you said, I made some mistakes," said Bianchi, lamenting the issues that prevented him from challenging Grosjean's times toward the end of the session. "Maybe I pushed too much. The car was good but I hit some traffic every lap on my second set of tyres so it was not easy for me.
"The last laps was quite good: sector 1 and sector 2 I was a bit slower than Romain. Maybe I could have improved in sector 3... We will never know." He added: "Still, I am quite confident for tomorrow and we will see what we'll see, what will happen."
Experienced river Davide Valsecchi took third spot, in his new seat at GP2 newcomers Team AirAsia: the reigning GP2 Asia champion said of today's third place performance that "It was okay, it was okay. It was a really nice feeling. We were competitive, maybe not enough to do pole but anyway we were always in the top 5 from the practice to the qualifying so the team made an incredible job to be immediately competitive."
Valsecchi will start the 36-lap feature race on Friday alongside Racing Engineering's Dani Clos. However AirAsia's other driver Luiz Razia suffered from a brake problem that put an early end to his qualifying with just nine laps recorded on the timing screens.
The other new GP2 team, Carlin, was also able to boast a man in the top ten as Max Chilton put in his best showing yet for the team to qualify in seventh place. After topping the pre-qualifying timesheets, Arden's Josef Kral was pushed down to eighth place in the late afternoon run, while Sam Bird will be disappointed to find himself pushed out of the top ten altogether with a time of 1:36.830s, 0.789s behind the pole time which only good enough for 11th spot.
In total, fourteen drivers are within 1s of the top time, promising some close racing to come.