CLICK: Full GP3 qualifying times from Sochi Autodrom
Dean Stoneman will start from pole position for the first time in GP3 and in his first outing for Koiranen GP, after finishing Saturday morning qualifying with a massive half-second margin over the rest of the field.
It was a huge achievement for the 24-year-old Briton, who only stepped into the #7 car this week after the announcement that his former race team Marussia Manor Racing wouldn't be competing in GP3's first visit to Russia due to "commercial reasons".
The deal allowing him to take over Carmen Jorda's car for Sochi and Abu Dhabi came through so late that Stoneman was still in his old Marussia-branded firesuit (also as a mark of support for Marussia's injured F1 driver Jules Bianchi) when he set what proved to be the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1:51.715s late in the 30-minute qualifying session at the brand new 3.634-mile, 18 turn Sochi Autodrom circuit.
That put him almost half a second ahead of the full ART compliment of drivers, with Alex Fontana joining Stoneman on the front row of the grid for today's first 17-lap race, while Marvin Kirchhöfer and Dino Zamparelli lock out the second row with times less than a tenth of a second further back.
Stoneman's new Koiranen team mate Jimmy Eriksson will start from fifth place, alongside Status GP's Richie Stanaway. Meanwhile another Marussia Manor refugee, Patrick Kujala, could only manage 18th place on the grid after his own last-minute switch of teams to Trident, and Russian rookie Nikolay Martsenko will start from last on the grid in his first GP3 outing for Hilmer Motorsport.
Stoneman had made his intentions clear early in the session, immediately jumping to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:52.501s, although as the track rubbered in his early time inevitably soon fell to Stanaway. Fontana also had a spell at the top shortly after the midway point with championship leader Alex Lynn a close second for Carlin, but once the drivers had pitted and taken on fresh tyres it was a whole new story with Stoneman back in charge ahead of Kirchhöfer.
Fontana was also soon able to improve and reclaimed provisional pole, but Stoneman wasn't to be denied and his next effort with two and a half minutes on the clock was the only lap under 1:52s and more than enough to end the debate about who would be leading the field to the green flag.
Lynn had one final chance to trump Stoneman's effort as he posted a purple time in sector one after the chequered flag came out, but he then locked up badly at turn 13 and lost time. That meant he had little choice but to abort the flying lap effort and come back onto pit lane instead of completing the lap, leaving him in eighth place on the grid alongside Jenzer Motorsport's Kevin Ceccon.
Lynn's chief challenger for the title with two rounds remaining in the 2014 season is Stanaway who will start from the row ahead of him. However Lynn has a 50-point advantage over the Kiwi which means that he could easily clinch the title this weekend at Sochi unless Stanaway can find something special - and Lynn meets with some sort of misfortune.
In a major blow for his hopes of keeping the GP3 drivers title fight alive, Richie Stanaway will start from the pit lane for Saturday's race 1 after he was penalised by race stewards for failing to stop when requested for an official weight check. Status GP then failed to bring the car back to the FIA garage before they subsequently worked on the car.
See full GP3 qualifying times from Sochi Autodrom.