Esteban Ocon clinched pole position in Bahrain on Thursday, and with it a valuable four bonus points that puts him narrowly in front of Luca Ghiotto in the GP3 Series drivers championship ahead of the penultimate weekend of the 2015 season.

Ocon set a searing pace in the afternoon desert heat that put him over half a second ahead of Ghiotto and the rest by the time the chequered flag came out, lining up an intriguing start to tomorrow's race 1 in which the two title rivals are primed to go side-by-side into turn 1.

See full GP3 qualifying results from Bahrain International Circuit.

With this being the first time that the GP3 Series has ever competed at the 15-turn, 3.363-mile Bahrain International Circuit and with only 30 minutes of qualifying to play with, it was no surprise that everyone was quick to roll off pit lane as soon as the session got underway.

Having led the championship standings coming into this weekend's race, Ghiotto staked an early claim on pole with an effort of 1:47.677s in the Trident to put him 0.129s ahead of Arden's Emil Bernstorff, while practice pace setter Ocon slipped into an early provisional third place for ART.

Problems for series newcomer Matevos Isaakyan meant that his Koiranen GP car crawled to a halt in turn 10, triggering an unscheduled intermission shortly before the halfway point of the session with a brief red flag, after which everyone was quickly once again back on it.

A switch to new Pirelli soft compound tyres saw Arden's Kevin Ceccon's improved run move him ahead of Ocon for third place, but then it was time for the rest of the field to put in their final runs of the day and the initiative was immediately seized by Campos Racing's Alex Palou, who shot up from 12th to provisional pole on the back of a searing time of 1:47.218s, four tenths faster than Ghiotto's previous best.

ART's Marvin Kirchh?fer was next to respond, moving into second behind Palou, but while Ghiotto put in a personal best it wasn't good enough to move him up from the third place to which he'd now been demoted. Worse still for Ghiotto, that became fourth place when his championship rival Ocon leapt to the top with his own flying lap which clocked in at a blistering 1:46.684s with purple times in both the first and third sectors along the way, putting him over half a second clear of Palou and the rest and making him the first and only man to dip into the 1:46s on Friday.

Ocon called it a day after that and headed back to his pit stall, watching on as Ceccon became the latest mover on the timing screens as he popped up into second place but still a long way off matching Ocon's time. There was one last effort by Ghiotto, and while it too fell short of ousting Ocon from the pole spot it was nonetheless good enough to promove the Italian onto the front row in second place albeit by just 0.009s.

The chequered flag was already out, meaning that there was be no more time for anyone to pull off a last second upset. That means behind Ocon and Ghiotto on the grid will be Ceccon and Palou, with Kirchh?fer settling for fifth alongside Trident's Artur Janosz. The rest of the top ten on the grid will consist of Bernstorff, Jann Mardenborough (Carlin), Jimmy Eriksson (Koiranen GP) and Ferrari Academy driver Antonio Fuoco (Carlin).

After his early problems that had triggered red flag, new boy Isaakyan was unable to take any further part in qualifying and completed only three laps in total, although that still put him in 21st place on the grid ahead of Zaid Ashkanani (Campos Racing), Sandy Stuvik (Status Grand Prix) and Konstantin Tereshchenko (Campos Racing).

That sets the starting grid for the first GP3 race of the weekend, which will be held on Friday afternoon at 1.20pm local time (10.20am GMT).

See full GP3 qualifying results from Bahrain International Circuit.



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