DAMS' Alex Lynn mastered the wet conditions of Friday afternoon GP2 qualifying at Sochi Autodrom to claim his second pole position of the year, by a slender margin from championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne.
CLICK: Full GP2 qualifying results from Sochi Autodrom.
Although the rain had finally stopped before qualifying got underway, the 3.634-mile, 19-corner street circuit had been thoroughly soaked thanks to the persistent downpour that had taken place the preceding two hours. While the F1 drivers had had the luxury of being able to mainly sit out their wet Free Practice 2 session, the same wasn't true for the GP2 teams and drivers all of whom had no option but to brave the conditions and head out for the only 30-minute qualifying session available to them.
With no time to lose, everyone was straight out on track on wet weather tyres. The out laps proved to be more like a dress rehearsal for the race as drivers jockeyed for position in an effort not to end up running in someone else's tyre spray when they finally did get to start their qualifying runs.
Rapax's Sergey Sirotkin was first to post a completed time with a lap of 2:09.244s, with Russian Time duo Artem Markelov and Mitch Evans also getting in decent first runs. Immediately though the times started to drop sharply as the tyres started to clear water off the racing line, and Arden's André Negrão went to the top with an impressive early 2:08.530s which put him three tenths ahead of Status Grand Prix's Richie Stanaway.
Alexander Rossi improved on his second run to go top with a lap of 2:06.053s in the Racing Engineering car just four thousandths ahead of Trident's Raffaele Marciello. Negrão recaptured the top spot with his response clocking in at 2:05.946s but was quickly deposed by Marciello as times started to tumble. The Italian's team mate Johnny Cecotto Jr. was also looking right on the pace in second ahead of championship leader Stoffel Vandoorne who after dominating the dry morning practice session was initially only able to find the pace to go into third.
Vandoorne briefly popped up to provisional pole with his next effort but was almost immediately shuffled back by improved efforts from DAMS pair Pierre Gasly and Alex Lynn who threatened a team 1-2 lock-out of the grid as the midway point of the session loomed. Vandoorne's chief remaining rival for this year's GP2 title, Alexander Rossi, was able to jump to the front with a 2:03.897s despite some twitchy moments during his flying lap, and unsurprisingly he was deposed by his own Racing Engineering team mate Jordan King.
Campos Racing's Arthur Pic confirmed that his morning pace had been no fluke by setting a new benchmark time of 2:03.563s putting him just under a tenth ahead of the Racing Engineering pair. Vandoorne had been shuffled back to sixth place in the interim, but the Belgian responded and with track conditions improving he was able to start finding something of his practice form to go top with a lap of 2:03.432s.
Vandoorne was able to shave a fraction off that with his next lap despite being compromised by Sirotkin having one of his numerous off-track excursions ahead of him. Not being able to grab the opportunity left him vulnerable to an impressive lap from Stanaway who despite a lock-up still managed to go the top of the timing screens with a lap of 2:02.998s, almost three tenths ahead of the ART.
The mid-session migration back to pit lane was later and briefer than usual, leaving the drivers only a little over eight minutes when they came back out to make their final runs. With nothing to lose at the bottom of the times, Carlin's Sean Gelael tried an audacious switch to slick tyres but despite parts of the track now looking very dry it was clear that it was too soon to forego the wet weather Pirellis just yet.
However, it was clear that the track conditions were improving by the minutes and the DAMS pairing of Gasly and Lynn made the most of it to once again claim the top two spots by going some six tenths faster than Stanaway. Marciello looked on course to go faster but was then baulked by Carlins' Dean Stoneman and ended up only managing to set the third fastest time; Pic's own effort to claim pole also fell short albeit by just 0.065s to split the DAMS pair for second.
With under three minutes to go, Alexander Rossi briefly captured the top spot before being upstaged by Stoffel Vandoorne setting a new provisional pole time of 2:01.878s - only for that to be bettered in turn by 0.038s by Lynn. Everyone now had one final chance to seize control of the session but the track was now busy and traffic an increasing factor - so much so that Vandoorne had to back off to create space and as a result he missed crossing the start/finish line before the chequered flag came out, meaning he would not be able to respond to Lynn challenge.
Lynn himself could do no more and was back on pit road even as the rest of the drivers tried one last time to oust him from the pole position. In the end no one was up to the job and the reigning GP3 Series champion was free to celebrate his second GP2 pole position with his DAMS team mate in parc fermé.
Considering just how fast he had been in the earlier session, Vandoorne will likely be frustrated to have to settle for second place on the grid, but it still presents him with a find chance to capitalise in the run down to the first corner in the 28-lap feature race that gets underway on Saturday afternoon at 4.40pm local time (2.40pm BST).
Rossi will start from the second row alongside Gasly, while Pic claimed fifth place alongside Cecotto who just pipped his team mate Marciello to sixth place. Richie Stanaway ended up being shuffled back to eighth place, while Arden's Norman Nato was able to claim ninth place on the grid alongside home favourite Sirotkin after Negrão ended up just missing out on a top ten spot.
Jordan King ended up with the 14th fastest time, but he will take a five place grid drop for causing a collision with Nato in the Monza sprint race last month. Robert Visoiu (Rapax) was also due to lose five grid places for causing a collision with Rossi in the same race, but as he qualified down in 23rd place and cannot serve the penalty in full he will be required to start from the pit lane instead.
In total, the grid will consist of just 24 cars this weekend as Hilmer Motorsport is not taking part in this round.
After tomorrow's feature race, the 21-lap sprint race will take place at 11.05am (9.05am) on Sunday morning. The GP3 drivers are also in action this weekend, starting with their sole practice session later today at 5pm (3pm BST) and qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.30am (7.30am BST). The 20-lap race 1 is scheduled for later on Saturday at 1.30pm (11.30am BST) and the shorter 15-lap race 2 will be on Sunday morning at 10am (8am BST).
See full GP2 qualifying results from Sochi Autodrom.