The last time that ART's Stoffel Vandoorne failed to start from pole position for a GP2 feature race was way back in July 2014 at the Hungaroring. The next event on the calendar was the Belgian's home race at Spa Francorchamps which saw him top qualifying for the first time in his still-fledgling GP2 career: and since then he's proven absolutely unstoppable.
The story continued and the outcome was no different on Friday in Barcelona, as the McLaren F1 test and development driver once again schooled the competition and ended up a full four tenths clear of a brace of DAMS drivers. That extends his own record for consecutive feature poles in GP2 to six with no sign of the amazing run in form coming to an end any time soon on this sort of showing.
CLICK: Full GP2 qualifying times from the Circuit de Catalunya
The 30-minute session on a hot and sunny afternoon in Barcelona had got off to a phoney start with an immediate red flag being triggered by Artem Markelov who rolled to a halt in turn 4 and needed to be recovered by the track officials.
Clearing up the stricken Russian Time car took two and a half minutes off the available session duration by the time that the red flag was withdrawn and the cars able to stream back out of pit lane onto the 2.892-mile, 16-turn Circuit de Catalunya for the second time. Marlon Stöckinger needed a little help from rival team mechanics when he stalled while still on pit lane and needed to be refired, but he too was soon able to join the fray.
Out on the track it was no surprise to see Vandoorne quickly pick up where he'd left off in the morning practice, immediately becoming the first driver of the day to go sub-90 seconds with a banker lap of 1:29.781s putting him almost a full second clear of Arthur Pic in the Campos Racing car in second.
The other drivers quickly set to work to take up the challenge of eating into Vandoorne's margin at the top. Reigning GP3 champion Alex Lynn quickly got within 0.148s of the Belgian's time to go second for DAMS ahead of Mitch Evans (Russian Time), Alexander Rossi (Racing Engineering), Richie Stanaway (Status Grand Prix) and Norman Nato (Arden), all of whom combined to push Pic quickly down to seventh place just ahead of Vandoorne's ART team mate Nobuharu Matsushita in eighth. In all, ten cars were within a second of provisional pole by the time everyone had completed their first set of qualifying laps.
The midpoint of the session saw all 24 cars back on pit road for new tyres, set-up tweaks and hurried conversations about strategy between each driver and his team. Sergei Sirotkin was first to come back on track in the Rapax with 12 minutes remaining, as the young Russian driver sought to improve his current provisional grid position of 20th. However by the time he finally started his flying lap the track was already clogged up once again by the rest of the field streaming out of pit lane for their own final runs.
Pierre Gasly succeeded in improving on his earlier time to tuck into third place behind his DAMS team mate Lynn, and there were impressive laps too from Trident's Raffaele Marciello, Campos Racing's Rio Haryanto and Nick Yelloly (Hilmer Motorsports) to take sixth, seventh and eitgth places respectively. Moments later their efforts were bested by an out-of-the-blue flier from Daniel De Jong who put the MP Motorsprports #17 up into sixth place behind Rossi.
None of the field could come close to carrying the fight to Vandoorne, but the Belgian wasn't about to sit back and relax. He made his point emphatically with a final flying lap of 1:29.273s, two hundredths of a second faster than the 2014 pole time set by Stephane Richelmi. It meant that he had extended his lead over Lynn to four tenths of a second, at which point he promptly headed back to pit lane to make an early day of it, his job well and truly done for the day.
DAMS duo Lynn and Gasly could do nothing about Vandoorne's peerless pace and had to settle for second and third, with Evans joining Gasly on the second row of the grid. Rossi, de Jong, Marciello, Haryanto, Yelloly and Carlin's Julian Leal rounded out the top ten for the start of Saturday's feature race.
Jordan King collected 15th place on the grid for Racing Engineering, which nominally put him alongside MP Motorsport's Sergio Canamasas who was shown on 16th place on the timing screens. However, the Spanish driver will start his home race from 19th on the grid after serving his three-place grid penalty for causing a collision at the last sprint race in Bahrain, ironically for an incident with King.
Johnny Cecotto Jr. will be less than happy with his first qualifying performance of 2015 for Hilmer, which returns to competition this weekend after missing the season opener at Bahrain, admitting at the time that it had not been able to sign up sufficiently well-funded drivers in time. Cecotto - a veteran of five full seasons in the feeder series - was only able to manage 21st place on the feature race grid, putting him well behind his rookie team mate Yelloly who was over six tenths faster in ninth position.
With the exception of Markelov who never got to put in a qualifying run, all the drivers were comfortably within the 107 per cent time of 1:35.522s. As Markelov had earlier finished the morning practice in the top ten, there was little risk of the race officials not granting him the necessary free pass into tomorrow's race - although he will have to start firmly from the back.
The start of the 37-lap feature race is scheduled for Saturday at 3.40pm (2.40pm BST). The shorter 26-lap sprint race will get the green flag on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am).
This weekend also sees the first round of the GP3 Series with practice on Friday evening at 5.50pm (4.50pm BST), qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST) and the first 22-lap race later in the day at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST). The Sunday race will consist of 17 laps and will get underway at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
See full GP2 qualifying times from the Circuit de Catalunya