Championship contender Renger van der Zande stole a march on his rivals today in qualifying for round 17 of the 2009 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series at the Algarve circuit in Portugal, the Dutch driver bagging pole position by a margin of more than a tenth.

"That was my best-ever qualifying lap, I think," said the Mercedes-powered Hitech Racing pilot. "Max Chilton was quick early on in the session and I did not think I could get close to his time - maybe the track was quicker earlier.

"But then I got a fantastic tow from [ART's] Roberto Mehri around the whole lap and got the pole."

Chilton will start second, with F3 Euro Series points' leader Jules Bianchi third and quickest of the seven invitational class drivers.

Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile posted fourth-best time in his Carlin Motorsport Dallara-Volkswagen, with the other man in the championship title hunt, Austrian Walter Grubmuller, only 13th fastest for Hitech Racing.

The leading National Class runner was T-Sport's Gabriel Dias, the Brazilian two-tenths ahead of his British rival for the class crown, Daniel McKenzie.

The Litespeed team struck trouble: Victor Correa was unable to take part due to a shortage of driveshafts for his SLC R1, while his team-mate Adil Hermanto suffered a suspected gearbox failure. The team hopes that both cars will be repaired in time for tomorrow's races.