CLICK: Full GP2 qualifying times from Monza
ART driver Stoffel Vandoorne will start Saturday afternoon's GP2 feature race from pole position after managing to displace long-time polesitter Arthur Pic from the top with just over six minutes remaining in qualifying in Italy on Friday.
Russian Time's Mitch Evans will start from third place alongside championship leader Jolyon Palmer, who was among those to find his flying laps fall foul of slower traffic during the 30-minute qualifying session.
An ominous build-up of dark clouds over the Autodromo Nazionale Monza had meant that everyone had been especially eager to get out on track before any rain started to fall, and to set banker laps in case the track conditions should abruptly deteriorate.
First out of of the gate was Rapax's Simon Trummer set a time of 1:34.000s on his warm-up, but that cost him the best from his tyres and meant that his flying lap clocked in only marginally faster at 1:33.164s which was soon bettered by many of those following him, with Arthur Pic delivering on his fastest time in practice by going top with a lap of 1:31.926s thanks to a tow through the Parabolica, putting the Campos Racing car 0.418s clear of DAMS pair Stephane Richelmi and Jolyon Palmer with ART's Stoffel Vandoorne fourth.
Mitch Evans cut Pic's margin at the top to 0.171s as he went second fastest in the Russian Time, until improved efforts from Palmer and Vandoorne demoted him back to fourth place ahead of Felipe Nasr (Carlin). However, Pic's attempt to push the provisional pole time further down ended up in a scary uncontrolled slide in the Parabolica which forced him to abort the lap and dive down into the pit lane.
Trummer's last effort before the mid-session pause put him into fifth place ahead of Racing Engineering's Raffaele Marciello, the pair pushing Nasr down to seventh ahead of his team mate Julian Leal. Looking oddly out of position after fast showings in the earlier practice session were Trident's Johnny Cecotto Jr. in 17th and Racing Engineering's Stefano Colletti in 25th.
The skies were still looking thoroughly evil but no rain had yet touched the 3.6-mile 11-turn circuit, and so there as still a chance for the drivers to get out for a second run, Vandoorne emerging from pit lane as one of the early takers. However, by the time he was ready to start his flying lap the rest of the field was also streaming back onto the track to get ready for their own final efforts, making it a suddenly very crowded piece of real estate.
Initially there were few improvements, but with seven minutes remaining on the clock Evans found a little extra to go into second just eight thousandths of a second off the pole time. Palmer's attempt faded over the second half of what had looked to be a fast lap, but Vandoorne finally found some clear space to go top with a time of 1:31.707s putting him 0.219s faster than Pic who was unable to respond after getting held up by Caterham's Rio Haryanto at Ascari.
Vandoorne had done all he could and duly headed to pit lane to watch how the final moments of qualifying played out. Palmer looked as though he were in with a chance of displacing the Belgian, only to find himself stumbling over Johnny Cecotto in the Parabolica as the Trident driver prepared for the start his own flying lap. That wrecked Palmer's chance of an improved time and left him thoroughly disgruntled with the Venezuelan, whose own qualifying effort was still somewhat error-strewn leaving him mired down in 21st place on the feature race grid.
Marciello managed to find a little extra time in the last minutes to edge out Trummer for sixth place, while Richelmi was able to jump up two positions with his own last run of the day to claim seventh place ahead of the Carlin pair of Nasr and Leal, with André Negrao holding on to tenth for Arden.
Stefano Coletti was able to improve on his mid-session performance to claim a still-disappointing 13th place on the grid in the latter half of the session. That was some way off where he'd hoped to be based on his practice pace and showing a somewhat tentative line through the Parabolica suggesting that his morning spin there was possibly still playing on his mind.
Further back, Pierre Gasly claimed 23rd place on the grid on his début for the Caterham squad, while Sergio Campana was the slowest driver of the session in his second GP2 race weekend at Monza, ending up 1.7s off the pole time meaning that he will start from the back of the grid alongside his Venezuela GP Lazarus team mate Nathanaël Berthon.
The 30-lap feature race 1 will get the green flag at 3.40pm (2.40pm BST) on Saturday afternoon, with the 21-lap sprint race 2 scheduled for Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST). Both races will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports F1.
In the meantime, GP3 action gets underway with practice on Friday evening at 5.50pm local time (4.50pm BST) with qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST). The first 17-lap race will be on Saturday afternoon at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST), with race 2 on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
See full GP2 qualifying times from Monza