Robbie Kerr judged the conditions at Sentul perfectly to give A1 Team Great Britain boss John Surtees the perfect 72nd birthday present with pole position for the eighth round of the World Cup of Motorsport in Indonesia.

Having seen season-long rival France set the pace in final practice, when conditions again suffered the worst of the Indonesian rainy season, Kerr took advantage of an uncharacteristic slip-up by Nicolas Lapierre to put himself in a leading position early in the quirky A1GP qualifying procedure. Although Lapierre then posted two laps faster than anyone else to establish a session-leading aggregate, Kerr went faster still at the end of the third segment to claim GB's first pole of the season.

The Briton's position was all but confirmed when the rain returned between sessions three and four. Although some teams - including GB - ventured out to see what was possible, few managed to improve, leaving Kerr sitting pretty ahead of Sunday's pair of races.

Qualifying began in the dry, but with thunderstorms rumbling around the surrounding jungle, the threat of rain was never far away. As a result, each of the first three 15-minute sessions saw something of a rush for the track.

Basil Shaaban was first out for Team Lebanon on a dry but greasy circuit, but it was Ireland's Ralph Firman who set the early pace, a lap of 1min 18.331secs being considerably faster than the former F1 pilot had managed in morning practice and good enough to keep the green machine at the head of the times until the closing stages.

Just one man proved able to beat Firman's mark, with Tomas Enge propelling the Czech Republic to P1 late on, but the real talking point of the session was the appearance of France in 23rd position, courtesy of Lapierre's moment at turn seven. The GP2 regular succumbed to a touch of pre-corner oversteer and was helpless to prevent the tricolour car from bouncing through the gravel trap.

"It wasn't my best lap ever," a sheepish Lapierre grimaced, "I made a mistake and went off into the gravel. I could have easily have hit the wall, but some days are good and, today, I managed to miss it."

Portugal, with Alvaro Parente, and Malaysia's Alex Yoong both featured in the top five - along with surprise package China, for whom Tengyi Jiang excelled.

With rain on the way, it was no surprise to see Lapierre at the head of the queue for session two, and the Frenchman had clearly banished any memory of his incident by banging in the fastest time of the weekend. Canada's Sean McIntosh followed the Frenchman over the line, claiming provisional pole despite lapping 0.7secs slower, but was quickly deposed by both Portugal and Ireland, whose aggregates benefited from their first session performances. Firman, in particular, appeared determined to make up for a disappointing Durban result, and eased Parente off pole by a massive 0.6secs.

Kerr also began his move up the leaderboard, having been seventh fastest in session one, posting the second best lap of the weekend to slot in behind Ireland. Switzerland and Malaysia rounded out the aggregate standings at this point, but the Czech team put itself in trouble when Enge spun out on his flier.

Lapierre was also among the first out in session three, and completed his back-to-front climb by getting to within 0.045secs of his second effort. That was enough to move the French car into provisional P1, where it remained until the closing moments of the session, when Kerr went under the 1min 17secs barrier to steal top spot away. The Briton's effort was the only one to feature in the 1min 16s throughout qualifying and deserved pole.

The combined results format saw the usual change in positions, with Mexico vaulting into third and Portugal moving in the opposite direction, despite their best two laps not differing too much in terms of time. Switzerland, meanwhile, remained fourth fastest, despite Neel Jani having all but been forced off the road by Italy's Max Busnelli as he started his flying lap. Ireland also dropped down the order, despite Firman lapping within a couple of tenths of his previous best, leaving the team in seventh spot.

Team Australia, with new boy Marcus Marshall driving, also spun, but the incident did little to affect the team's lowly position, which saw the Fosters-backed machine languishing at the tail of the timesheet along with China - which proved unable to retain its lofty position despite improving in sessions two and three - Lebanon, India, Austria - and Brazil, where Christian Fittipaldi appeared to struggle to overcome his lack of recent single-seater experience.

With the first spots of rain appearing in pit-lane in the ten-minute break between sessions three and four, the grid order appeared to be set, but a few hardy souls ventured out in an attempt to overturn the odds and improve their positions. Enge, Durban winner Jos Verstappen and Shaaban all managed to find a gain, handing them twelfth, 13th and 20th places respectively but, for the rest, it proved to a fruitless exercise, even if Kerr did give them hope by lapping in the low 1min 17s.

"I started on old tyres to learn a bit more about the circuit, and then we had two new sets of tyres for the rest of qualifying - which was fantastic," Kerr revealed, "We made a slight change for the third session, which was fantastic, and again for the fourth session, even though it was damp. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, I have a great opportunity, but it won't be easy."

Britain will be joined by France on the front row, with Lapierre out to maintain the points leader's win record intact with at least one success in Indonesia.

"After the off, I needed to put in a few safe laps," Lapierre said, with some understatement, "We were going to go out on wet tyres in the final session, but we saw Robbie out on dry tyres, and there is good data to be learnt from experimenting with the tyres.'

Salvador Duran scooped Mexico's best start in third, edging Jani to the outside of row two. Hayanari Shimoda made a strong return to the series for Japan in fifth, quietly climbing the qualifying order, and will share row three with Alex Yoong, the Malaysian putting one over the hosts by comfortably out-performing Ananda Mikola, who appeared to have gone AWOL in the fourth segment.

"I hope to race in the next round, but you never know," Duran said, "It is a political as well as a racing decision. The team will make the decision and David Martinez may be driving. It is very difficult if you don't know if you are coming back."

Ireland, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand rounded out the top ten, with Portugal being pushed back to eleventh. Team USA claimed 14th after a strong mid-session improvement from Phil Giebler put the stars-and-stripes car ahead of Germany and Italy.

 

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