Romain Grosjean has begun his GP2 Series title bid by claiming pole position for the opening race of the season at Istanbul.

The Asia Series champion set a benchmark time with 20 minutes of the session remaining, which was good enough to give the Dams driver the first pole position of the season. iSport's Sam Bird qualified second, with Super Nova driver Luca Filippi third.

Grosjean fought for the top spot with Jules Bianchi, Fabio Leimer and Dani Clos in the early part of the session. He set his quickest time just prior to Davide Valsecchi stopping on track, which brought out the red flags.

Bird and Filippi both got close to Grosjean's time just after the restart, but the session was stopped again when Mikhail Aleshin hit the wall at the end of the back straight. In the final minute of the session Michael Herck replicated Aleshin's accident, ending the session for good.

Speaking in the press conference after qualifying, Grosjean said: The team is doing a very good job, we have a good base set up, and we could make it work here for the qualy. This session was quite difficult because we had a lot of yellow flags and slow cars in between the laps, but it was a good session, even if I couldn’t improve with the second set.”

He added: “Tomorrow the aim for sure will be to win the race: we have to work on our race set up but hopefully it will go quite well, we can tune it a little bit with the data we have from qualy, and try to go for the win.”

Bird said: “It wasn’t an easy session by any means. As Romain said there were a lot of yellows, and some red flags as well, and I’ve got to give credit to my engineer because he kept me calm, gave me all the data I needed for the gaps ahead and behind, and I was able to do my lap at the right time.”

Filippi added: “For me it’s great to be sitting here now because we didn’t even know if I was coming to race here, so I was really motivated: I needed to prove to my team that they made a good choice, and now we have a start and can go from here to make something more.”

Behind the front three, Bianchi qualified in fourth, with Clos fifth and Luiz Razia sixth. Charles Pic was seventh, just ahead of Valsecchi. However, the Italian AirAsia driver was later given a ten place grid penalty for rolling backwards after he stopped out on track. This moved free practice pacesetter Christian Vietoris up to eighth, with Josef Kral and Max Chilton rounding out the top ten.

Chilton's Carlin teammate Aleshin had qualified in 23rd but has since been ruled out of the weekend after fracturing a metacarpal in his left hand in his accident. The Russian driver only secured his place in the field for Istanbul at the last minute after encountering budget issues.

“I braked in my normal place in corner 12, but the car didn't stop,” said Aleshin. “The team are investigating now what the problem may have been. Obviously I am very disappointed not to be able to race this weekend and sorry that I couldn't score any points for the team.”

Qualifying session results:

Driver Team Laptime Gap
1. Romain Grosjean Dams 1:34.398
2. Sam Bird iSport International 1:34.483 0.085
3. Luca Filippi Super Nova Racing 1:34.709 0.311
4. Jules Bianchi Lotus ART 1:34.784 0.386
5. Dani Clos Racing Engineering 1:34.797 0.399
6. Luiz Razia Team AirAsia 1:34.888 0.490
7. Charles Pic Barwa Addax Team 1:34.954 0.556
8. Davide Valsecchi Team AirAsia 1:34.975 0.577
9. Christian Vietoris Racing Engineering 1:34.981 0.583
10. Josef Kral Arden International 1:35.050 0.652
11. Max Chilton Carlin 1:35.110 0.712
12. Giedo van der Garde Barwa Addax Team 1:35.140 0.742
13. Jolyon Palmer Arden International 1:35.159 0.761
14. Fabio Leimer Rapax 1:35.164 0.766
15. Stefano Coletti Trident Racing 1:35.182 0.784
16. Johnny Cecotto Jr Ocean Racing Technology 1:35.360 0.962
17. Davide Rigon Scuderia Coloni 1:35.369 0.971
18. Marcus Ericsson iSport International 1:35.375 0.977
19. Fairuz Fauzy Super Nova Racing 1:35.428 1.030
20. Michael Herck Scuderia Coloni 1:35.545 1.147
21. Pal Varhaug Dams 1:35.681 1.283
22. Kevin Mirocha Ocean Racing Technology 1:35.825 1.427
23. Mikhail Aleshin Carlin 1:35.873 1.475
24. Esteban Gutierrez Lotus ART 1:35.973 1.575
25. Julian Leal Rapax 1:36.168 1.770
26. Rodolfo Gonzalez Trident Racing 1:36.187 1.789