Giorgio Pantano insists that he has a chance of further increasing his lead in the GP2 Series drivers' championship despite qualifying behind title rival Bruno Senna in the feature race at Spa-Francorchamps.
While the Brazilian, who trails Pantano by 13 points, inherited pole position when his iSport team-mate Karun Chandhok felt the force of a penalty applied after Valencia, Pantano slotted into fourth spot, having been second fastest in the morning's dry free practice session.
Qualifying was held on a wet track, with heavy rain still falling, forcing all 13 teams to adjust their set-ups to suit the very difficult conditions. Pantano waited fully six minutes into the half-hour session, and there had already been several incidents with cars running wide and yellow flags coming out by the time he started his first foray.
Visibility remained poor, and many drivers were finding it difficult to set a good time, but Pantano was immediately on the pace, setting the fifth fastest time before the session was bought to a halt after ten minutes when morning pacesetter Pastor Maldonado crashed and brought out the red flags.
The session resumed after a delay of six minutes but, within a few laps, the Racing Engineering team had moved to the top of the timesheet. Almost immediately, however, Senna went faster and, despite pressing hard over the remaining minutes, Pantano found it hard to respond, as luck played as big a part as skill in providing a faster time.
"Fantastic work from Pantano, considering the difficult conditions," team principal Alfonso de Orleans Borbón commented, "It was a lottery."
Although he had to settle for fifth fastest in the session, the Italian will start from fourth as Chandhok, who set the quickest time, took the ten-place penalty applied for a collision in the previous race at Valencia. And, despite seeing Senna lining up ahead of him, the veteran remains confident that he can be a factor in the feature, as he seeks the six-point weekend cushion over his rival to cement a long-awaited title.
“During the last ten or so minutes, we had yellow flags, so I couldn't improve my lap time without risking a penalty," Pantano said, aware that both Chandhok and Sebastien Buemi had picked up additional sanction for ignoring yellow flags.
"Without that, I am convinced I could have fought for pole, as the car is fine and I have a very good feeling. The positive thing is that we are strong in the wet as well as in the dry, which was shown with P2 in free practice, so I am confident about tomorrow's race."