Arthur Pic claimed the honours for Campos Racing with a lap of 1:20.556s in GP2 practice at Monaco, but it was a lively session that saw half a dozen or more drivers looking well up to speed and fully capable of challenging for pole position in this afternoon's qualifying for the feature race at the glamorous and iconic venue.
CLICK: Full GP2 practice times from Monaco
The 2.075-mile, 19-turn street circuit had completely recovered from its early morning soaking by the time that the GP2 cars headed out for their first taste of the unique Monaco setting in 2015, with Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi and Rapax's Sergey Sirotkin leading the entire field out on track the minute the lights went green.
Unfortunately the session ended up lasting less than a minute for Mitch Evans, whose Russian Time car had barely crawled through Beau Rivage to the top of the hill before coming to a halt, much as it had two weeks ago on its way to the sprint race formation grid at Barcelona. Unable to get the car going again, the Kiwi climbed out knowing that he would now miss out on all of the weekend's available practice and that he would now have to go into the afternoon qualifying session completely cold.
After a brief red flag to recover the stricken car from its awkward location, the track went green again and it was Pierre Gasly in the DAMS who set the early pace with an initial benchmark of 1:33.542s, 0.275s ahead of his team mate Alex Lynn, but these were barely reconnaissance laps compared with what was to follow. The lead changed hands multiple times and lap times improved by almost a second with each change at the top, as the drivers settled into their rhythm and started to get the feel of the track.
Rossi was the first driver to dip into the 1:22s, almost a full second faster than Carlin's Julian Leal, while ART's Stoffel Vandoorne was an entirely expected presence near the top of the timesheets in third place ahead of Leal's team mate Marco Sorensen. Gasly had kept up with the improved pace and was now down to 1:24.030s to feature in fifth ahead of Campos Racing's Rio Haryanto.
Leal and Sorenson improved further next time round to go first and third respectively, sandwiching Rossi in second. Leal had just set a new fastest time in sector one when yellow flags at the Nouvelle Chicane forced him to lift off, as track marshalls were at work removing the MP Motorsport car belonging to Daniel de Jong which had ground to a halt coming out of the tunnel.
Once the yellows were removed, Richie Stanaway was the first to exploit the opportunity and duly went a second faster than anyone else so far with a 1:21.503s in the Status Grand Prix car after narrowly avoiding clouting the Armco barriers in a vivid display of four-wheel drifting, with Andre Negrao leaping into second spot for Arden to show just how much the track was maturing as more rubber was laid down with every passing moment.
Vandoorne put his best foot forward with a new effort of 1:21.706s but that was still over a tenth off Stanaway's impressive time. Campos Racing's Arthur Pic was also on the move to take over third spot just ahead of Trident's Raffaele Marciello and Racing Engineering's Jordan King, with Haryanto also able to pip Negrao to move into sixth place with half the 45-minute session remaining. Haryanto improved further with his next effort to climb into fourth place, but he nonetheless remained over half a second away from Stanaway's benchmark at the top.
With the cars starting to come in for fresh tyres and set-up tweaks, Gasly had one final effort that saw him tuck in behind Haryanto in fifth place, and Rossi likewise improved to second with a lap of 1:21.610s. That was quickly bettered by Leal who managed to get within seven hundredths of a second of Stanaway before making his own scheduled return to pit lane with a little under a third of the session still to go.
Soon after the pit stops, Stanaway's time was finally topped by Marciello who put in two fastest laps in sectors two and three on fresh supersoft Pirelli tyres to go 0.469s faster than his rivals. Despite this pace, he was promptly displaced by Gasly who returned to the top of the timing screens with a lap of 1:20.809s, but who was in turn quickly ousted by a fine effort from Pic that was a quarter of a second faster still. Vandoorne's next run clocked in at 1:20.902s which by now was only good enough for third place, and the Belgian was then soon further demoted to fourth when Rossi returned to the fray and managed to muscle his way back into second spot.
Rossi's final effort looked to be faster still, but he was baulked going through La Rascasse by the slow-moving Lazarus of Zoel Amberg. Sorensen also had his problems at the same hairpin when he ran wide and almost wandered into the outside barrier, but he just managed to avoid contact and then found reverse to get himself out of trouble without spoiling the end of the session with the need for local waved yellows.
Not that anyone was really able to make effective use of the remaining time before the chequered flag came out to call a halt to the fun and games. Pic remained unchallenged at the top followed by Rossi, Gasly and Vandoorne. However Sergio Canamasas did manage to put in a late burst to capture fifth spot for MP Motorsport, putting him ahead of Marciello, Stanaway, Negrao and Haryanto. Norman Nato rounding out the top ten in the second Arden, and was the last driver to finish the session within a second of Pic's best.
The rest of the GP2 weekend schedule in Monaco sports a rather different look to the familiar order or proceedings at other rounds of the season, starting with qualifying which gets underway on Thursday afternoon at 4.13pm local time (3.13pm BST) but which is broken up into two different groups of 13 cars each in order to reduce problems with overcrowding on the short Monaco circuit. The cars bearing odd numbers head out first for 15 minutes, and then the even-numbered cars get their turn starting at 4.39pm (3.39pm BST.)
While F1 sleeps in on Friday, the GP2 field will have the place all to itself for the 42-lap feature race 1 starting at 11.15am local time (10.15am BST), while the shorter 30-lap sprint race 2 will be held on Saturday afternoon at 4.10pm (3.10pm BST) following the conclusion of F1 qualifying.
See full GP2 practice times from Monaco