Frenchman Romain Grosjean claimed GP2 Asia's first-ever pole position at Imola, following the hastily-arranged relocation of the series' final race of 2011 to San Marino in the wake of political unrest at the original venue in Bahrain.
Dams' Grosjean was always one of the fastest runners in the session, despite mechanical problems in practice 1 causing him to miss out on the whole of practice 2 in the morning. Grosjean, along with Scuderia Coloni driver Michael Herck, were the first cars to break the 1:29.00 barrier early on, and times improved from there through-out the session as the drivers became increasingly familiar and confident in their new surroundings.
Sam Bird quickly joined the front runners, and then Mikhail Aleshin and Luiz Razia topped the timesheets briefly as the laptimes tumbled toward the 1:28 mark, at which point there was a brief stoppage when a red flag came out to allow stewards to remove some stray bodywork debris from the middle of the track.
Once the track went green again, Grosjean went fastest and was the first man through the 1:28 mark, only to be beaten by Herck within seconds; after a brief lull while the teams regrouped in the pits and put in their final adjustments, Sam Bird led the charge and took the top spot with a flying 1:27.554, improving on it still further next time around to 1:27.384 and keeping Grosjean in second with under ten minutes to go.
With the seconds counting down to the end of the session, Grosjean had one final chance to take pole - and out of nowhere managed to nail it with a 1:27.067, a new lap record for this particular track configuration at the historic circuit. The two extra points for pole position means that Grosjean is now tied in the championship with series leader Jules Bianchi, emphasising how critical tomorrow's race will be in deciding the abbreviated season's champion.
Luca Filippi's return to GP2 for Scuderia Coloni - substituting for James Jakes, who has been testing for Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar in the US - was ill-fated, the car not completing a single fast timed lap during the session because of driveshaft problems, all the more galling given his team mate Herck managing to qualify on the second row of the grid alongside Bianchi.
The feature race starts at 1pm GMT (2pm local time) on Saturday, March 19 with the sprint race at the same time on Sunday, March 20.
For full qualifying times
, see the results section.