Luca Ghiotto has only missed out on pole position once so far in 2015 when he stumbled in qualifying at Silverstone last month: he wasn't about to let that disappointment occur again this weekend in Belgium, the place where just 12 months ago the 20-year-old Italian had clinched the very first GP3 pole position of his career.
CLICK: Full Saturday morning GP3 qualifying results from Spa-Francorchamps
Perfect conditions conditions greeted the drivers as they headed out on the 4.335-mile (7km), 19-turn Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the 30-minute qualifying session on Saturday morning, warm and dry albeit with more cloud cover in the sky than there had been on Friday.
Series leader Ghiotto had once again staked out his claim to another pole position after having been fastest in Friday afternoon's practice session. When it came to the all-important qualifying session, the Trident driver's first flying lap of the day clocked in at 2:07.021s to put him briefly on top of the timing screens by two hundredths of a second from Arden's Emil Bernstorff and Koiranen GP's Matt Parry.
Ghiotto's initial spell at the top didn't last long before he was quickly usurped by Jenzer Motorsport's Mathéo Tuscher who posted a new provisional pole time of 2:06.402, 0.137s ahead of ART's Marvin Kirchhöfer. Also soon setting faster times were Antonio Fuoco (Carlin), Pål Varhaug (Jenzer Motorsport) and Esteban Ocon (ART), which combined managed to push Ghiotto all the way down to sixth place after the first set of runs were complete and in the books.
Ghiotto's next attempt put him within fifth thousandths of a second of Tuscher's benchmark, but Bernstorff then made it academic by setting a new top time of 2:06.077s that was itself quickly set aside by Kirchhöfer and then Ocon who became the first drivers of the weekend to dip into the 2:05s territory. Once the second round of flying laps were complete and cars started to head back to pit lane for set-up changes and fresh tyres, Ghiotto found himself once again having been shuffled back to sixth place.
Jann Mardenborough was the first driver to get back to work after the mid-session break, shooting up to second place with a fabulous final sector to put him within seven thousandths of a second of edging Ocon for the pole spot. The Briton had been one of a number of GP3 drivers caught out during practice yesterday by the new sausage kerbs at Eau Rouge, which had launched him into the air and damaged the underfloor and monocoque of his Carlin when he had run wide; the kerbs were subsequently removed by the FIA overnight over the safety concerns.
After Mardenborough's effort, it took a few minutes for the rest of the field to get their tyres up to temperature and start their own flying laps. Bernstorff was the first to land his punch, going top with a new pole time of 2:05.308s but then Ghiotto finally showed his hand with a blistering lap of 2:04.943s.
There were improved laptimes too from Fuoco, Kevin Ceccon (Arden), Tuescher and Alfonso Celis Jr (ART) but none of them came close to challenging Ghiotto's hold on the top of the timesheets. Not even Ocon was able to do enough, falling 0.171s short of the pole time but doing enough to edge back into second place ahead of Bernstorff.
Ghiotto wasn't feeling safe enough to simply sit back at this point, and his final flying lap started with a purple first sector. However once it was clear that Kirchhöfer's last run would only be good enough for third place on the grid behind Ocon, Ghiotto was able to take his foot off the gas and cruise down pit road early, secure in the knowledge that there was no one left out on the track capable for depriving him of his fifth series pole position and his fourth of 2015.
Bernstorff's time proved good enough to keep him in fourth place and on the second row alongside Kirchhöfer, with Fuoco and Ceccon picking up fifth and sixth on the race 1 grid just ahead of Matt Parry. The Briton had an untidy session with an early run wide into the gravel in the first half of the session and a lock-up on his penultimate flying lap in the second which squandered a purple first sector, but he had regrouped in time for one last run that boosted him from 20th to seventh place in the final standings.
Parry will start alongside Tuscher who wasn't able to sustain his early pace once things heated up toward the end of the session. Rounding out the top ten on the grid will be Koiranen GP's Jimmy Eriksson and Celis Jr. with Mardenborough ending up getting just edged out to 11th in the final minutes.
While a number of drivers had brief offs during the session, the most spectacular was that of Varhaug who went for a wild spin at Pouhon in the final minute of qualifying. Despite a cloud of tyre smoke as he went sideways and then backwards into the run-off, he was never in danger of hitting the wall and was able to gather the Jenzer back together, re-fire the engine and make his way back to pit road with no harm done.
Trident's Beitske Visser will start from 19th as she returns to the GP3 Series for the first time since her one and only previous appearance at Barcelona in 2014. The Dutch driver, who is also competing this year in the Formula 3.5 Series, has taken over the #28 this weekend from the team's former regular driver Oscar Tunjo.
The 17-lap race 1 set to get underway later later today at 5.15pm local time (4.15pm BST). Before that, the GP2 drivers will be in action for their 25-lap feature race which gets the green flag at 3.50pm (2.50pm BST).
The second GP3 race will be comprised of 13 laps and will take place on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST), where it will be followed by the shorter GP2 18-lap sprint race at 10.35am (9.35am BST).
See full Saturday morning GP3 qualifying results from Spa-Francorchamps