Having been the class of the field in the Friday morning practice session at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, DAMS' Pierre Gasly was successful in claiming his maiden GP2 pole position in fine style.
Gasly set an unbeatable time of 1:31.272s at the 3.6-mile (5.793km) 11-turn circuit just after the mid-session interval, putting himself a tenth and a half head of Russian Time's Mitch Evans who had looked to have the pole sown up early on but who proved unable to mount a fightback once ousted by Gasly.
Despite having claimed four pole positions so far in 2015, McLaren's F1 test and development driver Stoffel Vandoorne never looked likely to claim a fifth this weekend and had to settle for third place on the grid instead. That's still a very strong position from which to defend his huge points lead in the drivers' title standings heading into the eighth of 11 rounds of this year's GP2 Series championship.
CLICK: Full GP2 Friday qualifying times from Monza
The first flying laps of the 30-minute Friday afternoon session were from Rapax's Sergey Sirotkin who quickly reduced his opening effort of 1:42.416s down to 1:31.993s already beating his morning practice best. That was still not enough to see off rapidly improving laps in succession from ART's Stoffel Vandoorne, DAMS' Pierre Gasly and then Russian Time's Mitch Evans who grasped provisional pole with a lap of 1:31.424s to put him a tenth faster than the morning pace setter.
The next runs saw Vandoorne improve to within 0.054s of Evans for a potential front row spot, while Gasly also improved his time but remained in third place putting him into a provisional second row grid position alongside his DAMS team mate Alex Lynn. Behind them, Sergey Sirotkin and Richie Stanaway (Status Grand Prix) were lined up together ahead of Campos Racing pair Rio Haryanto and Arthur Pic sandwiching the second ART of Nobuharu Matsushita in eighth.
That was all the time that the drivers had for their first set of qualifying runs, and with the mid-point of the session fast approaching it was time to return to pit lane for tweaks and tyres. Going off-sync in an effort to take advantage of a near-clear track were Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi and Hilmer Motorsport's Simon Trummer but neither seemed to have anything like the pace in hand to threaten to break into the top ten.
Rossi's final effort came as the other cars were now stirring from pit lane, led by the Ardens of Norman Nato and André Negrão who were similarly struggling to get themselves onto the top half of the grid for Saturday's feature race. With under ten minutes remaining, Rossi managed to dig deep and put himself into eighth with a lap of 1:32.021s, although that was still just under six tenths off Evans' provisional pole time.
Nato meanwhile was among those drivers finding the track suddenly full of inconveniently slow traffic too preoccupied with warming up their tyres. That logjam thwarted Nato's flying lap attempts, taking the best off the tyres and leaving him in 15th place as the clock ticked down to less than five minutes remaining. Fortunately not having the same problem finding space was Gasly, who with a mighty purple final sector through the Parabolica managed to oust Evans from his residency atop the timing screens, the Frenchman putting himself 0.152s ahead of the Russian Time.
Now the charge was on to see if anyone could do anything to prevent Gasly from claiming the top spot on the grid. Lynn was half a second off his team mate's time and no threat, and Evans was similarly unable to squeeze any extra time out of his car before the clock ran out. Vandoorne never found space to improve on his earlier time either and duly had to settle for third place on the grid alongside Lynn.
Behind the top four, Sirotkin held on to fifth place on the grid alongside Haryanto, with Pic one of the few to make a late improvement to climb to seventh place alongside Stanaway and Sergio Canamasas (Lazarus) just managing to edge out Rossi for ninth place.
Of the drivers making a return from absence to GP2 this weekend, the best showing was from Johnny Cecotto Jr. who was 16th fastest for Trident. Having missed the last round of the GP2 season with an infection, Rene Binder was 20th in qualifying after his move to MP Motorsport standing in for Daniël de Jong, who is recuperating from back surgery following his big crash at Spa. In the sole Hilmer car taking part this week in Monza, Simon Trummer was 23rd fastest.
Among the newcomers, Jann Mardenborough (Carlin) was a creditable 19th fastest in his first time in a GP2 car while fellow rookies Patric Niederhauser (Lazarus) and Meindert van Buuren (MP Motorsport) were 24th and 25th respectively.
The 30-lap feature race is set for Saturday afternoon at 3.40pm local time (2.40pm BST) following F1 qualifying, and the 21-lap sprint race is on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST).
The GP3 teams are also in action at Monza, with practice scheduled for Friday evening at 5.50pm (4.50pm BST) and qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST). The 22-lap race 1 will start at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST) and the shorter 17-lap race 2 on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
See full GP2 Friday qualifying times from Monza