Heading into only his fourth weekend in the GP3 championship, Trident's Luca Ghiotto succeeded in picking up a remarkable third pole position with a late effort clocking in at 1:19.350s putting him 0.205s ahead of the rest of the field in his series début at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.
The 20-year-old Italian driver - who made two appearances for the team last year at Spa and Monza before being signed to a full-season contract for 2014 - will be hoping to press home the advantage this time and go one better than the second place he achieved in Barcelona last month during the first round of the current season.
CLICK: Full qualifying times from the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.
Although the morning conditions were dry and relatively bright, it was still overcast compared with the sunny conditions of Friday's practice session, and moreover the track had turned surprisingly chilly leaving the drivers struggling to get their tyres up to temperature to enable them to put in a flying lap without also flying off entirely in the process.
Carlin's Mitchell Gilbert was the first to set a representative time of 1:22.518s but that was over two seconds slower than his team mate Jann Mardenborough had managed to top practice less than 18 hours earlier so there was clearly a lot more to come if the drivers could find a at activate their tyres in time.
Koiranen GP's Jimmy Eriksson briefly went top by a little under two tenths, but Gilbert was soon back in charge with a new offering of 1:21.211s to go 0.327s ahead of ART pair Esteban Ocon and Marvin Kirchhöfer. Kirchhöfer's next effort shaves a further 0.046s off the provisional pole time, but Gilbert immediately responded to claim the top spot with a new time of 1:21.022s just under ten minutes into the session.
Eriksson's team mate Adderly Fong was the next to show his hand and briefly go top before Kirchhöfer muscled everyone else aside with his next contribution of 1:20.786s. Even this was no where near enough to settle the issue however, with Ocon charging back into contention with a new effort of 1:20.663s which was in turn quickly surpassed, this time by Campos Racing's Álex Palou.
Some rain in the air did not deter Luca Ghiotto in the #27 Trident from putting in the best lap of the weekend so far, clocking in at 1:20.138s to go 0.350s clear of Arden's Emil Bernstorff an the rest of the field. Ghiotto pushed his advantage even further with one final effort of 1:20.039s as the drivers started to head back to pit road for their mid-session break to confer with their teams. In Ralph Boschung's case, his Jenzer Motorsport was looking distinctly lightweight after the piece of bodywork over the nose of the car ripped off while going through turn 6 at high speed.
When the drivers returned to the track, the rain continued to stay very light and Eriksson immediately demonstrated that there was speed to be found as he improved to fourth place with a lap of 1:20.586s. Kirchhöfer was also straight back down to work with a new lap of 1:20.186s to put him onto the provisional front row alongside Ghiotto who still had a 0.147s margin in reserve.
Kirchhöfer's next lap soon put paid to that as he leapt to the top with a new time of 1:19.803s, but that lasted only a minute before Ocon took 0.055s off the German's time, while behind the pair Koiranen's also dipped under the 1:20s mark to go into third place ahead of Ghiotto who seemed to have nothing more to offer.
Ocon briefly lost the provisional pole to Palaou but then grasped it straight back; Palou pushed too hard in response and spun in the final corner, keeping it off the barrier by inches but triggering local waved yellows while he got the car back pointing in the right direction. Jenzer's Mathéo Tuscher also had a scare when he ran wide passing slow traffic and only just held it going into the final two corners. Óscar Tunjo was less fortunate, his Trident spinning off at turn 6 and ending the session beached in the gravel after having spent most of qualifying mired on pit lane with mechanical issues.
Somehow despite all these distractions, Ghiotto had still managed to find the ideal moment and sufficient room on the tight 2.688-mile, nine-turn circuit to put in what proved to be his best lap of the session - and it was enough for pole position by just over two tenths from Ocon, pushing Palou down to third place where he will start race alongside Kirchhöfer.
Bernstorff was able to improve to fifth place just in front of Parry, with Sandy Stuvik securing seventh for Status Grand Prix ahead of Antonio Fuoco (Carlin), Eriksson and Gilbert who will line up in tenth place for the start of Saturday's 40-minute race 1 which gets the green flag this afternoon at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST). The 30-minute race 2 is on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
See full qualifying times from the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.