Pierre Gasly confirmed his earlier practice pace by clinching pole for the final GP2 feature race of 2015, but it proved a tight battle with Stoffel Vandoorne.
CLICK: Full GP2 qualifying times from Abu Dhabi
DAMS' Pierre Gasly successfully claimed back-to-back feature race pole positions and his third of the year all of them coming from the final four rounds of the season, but the Red Bull junior was pushed all the way by 2015 series champion Stoffel Vandoorne who came within a tenth of a second of taking the top spot.
For only the second time this year - the first being the season opener at Bahrain in April - the 30-minute qualifying session was held after sunset and under floodlights, making for very different track conditions from those faced earlier in the day in practice in full glare and heat of the midday sun. Aware that they had much ground to cover and little time on hand to do it, the entire 24-car field was immediately threading its way out out onto the 3.451-mile, 21-turn track through Yas Marina Circuit's distinctive and unique pit exit underpass.
Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi and Jordan King were the first to complete their warm-up laps and lead the charge into a first salvo of flying laps. Rossi's first true qualifying effort clocked in at 1:49.855s with King opening his own account with a 1:48.632s, but both were soon firmly eclipsed by practice pace setter Gasly who went over half a second clear with a lap timed at 1:48.014s. Russian Time's Mitch Evans was also looking strong straight out of the box, slotting into second place ahead of King.
Rossi was able to improve his time with his next effort and moved ahead of King for third, but then everyone bar Gasly was shuffled down by an impressive first flier from Vandoorne, the new McLaren F1 test and development driver provisionally booking a place on the front row with a 1:48.241s. That meant he had reeled Gasly back in and closed the gap to the provisional pole to just 0.227s. Gasly meanwhile tried but failed to open the gap back out again, and so the Frenchman was soon joining the rest of the field coming back to pit lane for set-up changes, a set of new Pirelli supersoft tyres and a strategy talk with the team before the second half kicked off.
First to come back out on a clear track was the Russian Time #10 of Artem Markelov bidding to improve from his current 12th place in the standings. Before he was able to do so, the pit lane sprang back into life and cars started to stream back onto the track. Gasly, Vandoorne, Evans, Rossi and King were all back out along with Arden's André Negrão and DAMS' Alex Lynn who along with Trident's Raffaele Marciello were rounding out the top eight on the timing screens at the midway point.
Once they had heated up their tyres, Lynn and Marciello both posted personal best times in the opening sector with Lynn then going on to set a new purple time in the second sector on his way to shooting up to second place behind his team mate. Gasly was pushed to the absolute ragged edge to improve his time to 1:47.769s, which he needed in order to stay ahead of Vandoorne's latest bid which came just a tenth of a second short of deposing Gasly from the provisional pole spot.
Sure that they had nothing else to wring from their cars, Gasly, Vandoorne and Lynn all called it a day after that and returned to pit lane early. Staying out on track for one last push was Mitch Evans, and with his final effort he was able to insert himself up onto the second row with a time that was good enough to pip Lynn for third place, the top four all covered by under three tenths of a second.
There was no further challenge to the top four from those who carried on until the chequered flag, but Marciello found some extra pace to move up to fifth place ahead of Campos Racing's Rio Haryanto. Meanwhile Rossi ended the day in seventh place which means that he will line-up on the feature race grid alongside his team mate Jordan King, and Vandoorne's ART colleague Nobuharu Matsushita ended up with the ninth fastest time of the session which means he will start on the same row as Markelov, who had managed to improve to tenth place by the finish.
Just as with qualifying, the 31-lap feature race 1 will also take place under the floodlights when it gets underway on Saturday evening at 6.40pm (2.40pm GMT), and then it will be back to daytime conditions for the 22-lap sprint race 2 scheduled for Sunday at 2.20pm (10.20am GMT)
The GP3 Series is also in action this weekend, with ART's Esteban Ocon now holding a slender two point lead in the championship over Trident's Luca Ghiotto. Ocon moved in front after succeeding in clinching the bonus points for pole position for the 18-lap race 1 which is scheduled to get underway on Saturday at 12.25pm (8.25am GMT), while the shorter 14-lap race 2 will conclude the season on Sunday at 1pm (9am GMT).
See full GP2 qualifying times from Abu Dhabi