The GP2 Series two main title protagonists endured very different qualifying sessions for the first event around the new Valencia 'street' circuit, with Giorgio Pantano backing up his practice pace with pole position and Bruno Senna struggling through various problems to eventually claim a fourth row spot.
The on-off, but long-awaited, weekend at the latest venue to join the schedule began in the best possible way for Racing Engineering team leader Pantano, who swept the opening day after the team's set-up work produced an immediately quick car. The Italian finished the free session more than half a second quicker than his closest followers, which made him the hot favourite to take the pole, and he duly delivered, going fastest with his first attempt at a quick lap, and returning to first place for good in the final part of the session, after an improvement in track conditions - and times - had seen him toppled from top spot.
"For me, it went quite well," an understated Pantano reported, "I am on pole after fighting with [Pastor] Maldonado and some other drivers. After what happened in Hungary, it is nice that we could show we are still on top.
"It's good to have the pole on a street circuit like this, as you can avoid the traffic at the start, and I would like to say thanks to the team as they gave me a great car. It was perfect."
The pole gave Racing Engineering and Pantano two valuable points to add to their respective tallies, increasing the Italian's advantage over Senna after the Brazilian had carved large chunks from the gap in Hungary three weeks ago.
"It was a fantastic job once again from Giorgio," team principal Alfonso de Orleans Borbón commented, "He has done an amazing job on a circuit which is new to everyone. Congratulations to all the boys in the team for the wonderful job. I am very proud of the work they are doing."
Senna, meanwhile, had to overcome a catalogue of troubles to secure his fourth row spot as circumstances contrived to deny the Brazilian his usual shot at pole.
"It has just been one of those days, really," he sighed, "This morning, I missed a few laps in the free practice session because of a throttle problem. It took a while to get the car fired up and I set off several laps after everybody else. When I did get going, the session was interrupted by red and yellow flags, so it was quite hard to settle into a rhythm, and I ran out of time to evaluate all the things we would ordinarily have tried.
"I tested an F3 car here in July, which helped me to learn the circuit, but it still takes time to adapt to driving a more powerful car and I felt I was slightly on the back foot when qualifying started. In the end, though, the main problem was traffic. That was the same for everybody, of course, but the session ended up being less about how quickly you could drive and more about traffic management. I never managed a clear lap, so that was that.
"Despite everything, however, the car felt okay and I'm confident I can obtain a decent result. It has been a frustrating day, but this is not meant to be an easy sport and I shall rise to the challenge tomorrow."