James Calado got the European leg of the GP2 Series season off to the best possible start by claiming his maiden pole position in qualifying in Barcelona.
The Briton is racing at a circuit he has raced at previously in his career for the first time in GP2, despite having claimed sprint race wins in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia and a podium in Bahrain in his previous appearances in the series.
The Lotus GP driver became the first rookie to claim pole position since Oliver Turvey, his predecessor as Racing Steps Foundation's leading driver, did so at Monza at the very end of 2010. It was also the first pole for the team formerly known as ART since Jules Bianchi at Silverstone last year.
Like many, Calado went out early on the softer tyre compound, and he set the fastest time to finish the session two tenths clear of Fabio Leimer, who was able to set a time good enough for the front row despite going out later. The Racing Engineering driver has won the sprint race at the Circuit de Catalunya in both of the past two seasons.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to be in first place for the first time,” declared Calado. “It was a tough qualifying session for everyone: none of us had used the soft tyre previously, so we didn’t know what to expect or what the car would be like, how to change our driving style, and we assumed it would be just the one lap, which proved to be the case.
“They degraded very, very quickly, and I was lucky and got one in there before that yellow flag. It was a pretty good lap, I didn’t make any mistakes, and it’s a bit unfortunate for my teammate as he was equally as quick but he had to slow down for the yellow flag, or it could have been a one-two. But I’m really happy to be at the front with the top guys, especially after a disastrous race in Bahrain where we had a problem with the car: all is fixed, and it’s just nice to have a quick car and be confident again.”
Stephane Richelmi was a surprise third quickest to claim his best qualifying result, with Max Chilton joining him on the second row of the grid. The third row will be shared by Giedo van der Garde and Fabio Onidi.
Championship leader and series veteran Davide Valsecchi could only manage seventh place, setting an identical lap time to eighth-placed Stefano Coletti. Jolyon Palmer took ninth, with Nathanael Berthon completing the top ten.
While Valsecchi would have been disappointed with his qualifying result, he still outqualified his nearest rivals Esteban Gutierrez and Luiz Razia, who finished up 11th and 13th respectively, separated by Nigel Melker.
Josef Kral had set the pace in practice after his recall by Addax, but could only qualify in 16th after taking to the circuit later than most. Bahrain sprint race victor Tom Dillmann was 18th, with fellow rookie Felipe Nasr a lowly 22nd behind fellow Brazilian and series debutant Victor Guerin.