Heikki Kovalainen will not only start Saturday's GP2 Series feature race ahead of his two championship rivals, but, by securing pole position, also adds two valuable bonus points to his slim advantage, extending the gap back to Nico Rosberg to nine points.

Rosberg has been this season's pole-meister, but title rival Kovalainen bettered the ART Grand Prix driver by just under two-tenths of a second, with no other driver able to get within a second of the pole time of 1min 33.725secs. Kovalainen and Rosberg will thus be able to go head-to-head from the start of tomorrow's race, the first time both have qualified on the front row - and been able to keep their position - this season.

"I'm happy to be on the front row, but not happy because I did the same lap time three times in a row!" Rosberg fumed, "It was going to have to be something very special to take pole today and it just didn't happen. We were lacking one or two tenths from Heikki."

Qualifying was held under blue skies and soaring temperatures, and witnessed an equally hot battle for pole. Kovalainen took the fastest first sector on his first lap out of the pits, but Rosberg struck back in the second and third sectors to take provisional pole. It would only last for one lap, however, as, next time by the pits, Kovalainen reclaimed top spot with a lap of 1min 33.739secs, which he bettered slightly at the midway mark of the session on his second set of tyres.

"I'm very happy," Kovalainen admitted, "I felt very comfortable this morning, and the car was pretty good - I think, with the low downforce settings we have here, the car has been working really well over the whole weekend so far, and I was certainly looking for pole position today."

Third fastest in qualifying, as he had been in free practice earlier in the day, was Scott Speed, but the American was unable to live up to his name this time around, clocking a best lap fully 1.1secs behind Kovalainen. As a result, the iSport driver will share the second row of the grid with Rosberg's ART team-mate Alex Premat, who found a chunk of time to vault up the order from his practice position of 16th.

Speed's time of 1min 34.8secs was the only other one under 1min 35secs, as no-one else found a reply to the pace of the championship contenders. It was not for want of trying, however, with Jose Maria Lopez looking impressive throughout, and several others bunching up closely behind the Argentine in the final order.

"We're in a strong position," Speed insisted, "We've also seen that there is a possibility for rain tomorrow, and obviously we were pretty quick in the rain in Turkey, so we'll see what happens. From third spot, we're right in the hunt, and you never know what can happen in the race."

Lopez, who was running well at Monza in last year's F3000 finale before a freak wing failure, eventually claimed the inside of row three, which he will share with Nelson Piquet Jr, the Brazilian determined to end his GP2 winless streak this weekend.

Behind the all-South American row, Nicolas Lapierre posted one his better qualifying sessions for seventh spot, where he will line up fractionally ahead of Ferdinando Monfardini, the Durango driver benefiting from a degree of local knowledge, as well as favourable track conditions, to claim eighth.

The top ten was completed by Neel Jani and Giorgio Pantano, both of whom were within three-tenths of Piquet's sixth-best time, while Borja Garcia, Ernesto Viso and Sergio Hernandez would all lay claim to a better position had they been able to find another half-second.

Hernandez maintained Campos Racing's better showing so far this weekend in 13th, fractionally ahead of Hiroki Yoshimoto, but team-mate Juan Cruz Alvarez slipped back to 18th after both had appeared in to ten in practice.

Row eight, however, produced the most unfamiliar line-up, as mid-season replacements Giorgio Mondini and Toni Vilander laid claim to 15th and 16th spots despite having less experience of GP2 than their rivals. Indeed, for Vilander, qualifying was only a second outing in the car vacated on the eve of the event by Gianmaria Bruni, but the Finn made up for a total lack of laps in practice by lapping in 1min 35.944secs as he passed the chequered flag.

That lap ensured that the Coloni stand-in will start ahead of previous race winners Olivier Pla, Clivio Piccione and Adam Carroll, with the Irishman consigned to the very back of the field after managing just three laps. Carroll scooped the 'best driving style' prize in Thursday night's Winning Attitude Awards ceremony and will need to show all of that and more if he is to make an impact on Saturday's results.

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