Johnny Cecotto - Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

Cecotto stunned to claim his first GP2 pole position - Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

Johnny Cecotto Jr continued his stunningly good pace in Monaco by stealing pole position in GP2 qualifying.

Following on from his fellow Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado's victory in the Spanish Grand Prix and at a circuit that Maldonado was known for his successes in the junior formulae, Cecotto claimed top spot for Friday's feature race at the very end of GP2's first ever split qualifying session.

The first half session, featuring the even-numbered drivers, saw a number of drivers trading top spot as the track improved in pace, although Giedo van der Garde took charge in the second half of the session.

The Dutchman was still ahead when the checkered flag fell with his time looking unbeatable, but Max Chilton pulled out a quicker effort of 1:21.320 with the final flying lap to edge out van der Garde by 0.155 seconds and guarantee himself a spot on the front row.

Chilton's fellow Brit Jolyon Palmer had also been in the mix and finished that session third, ahead of Josef Kral and regular frontrunner Esteban Gutierrez who lost running in free practice when he found the barriers early on at Ste Devote. Local boys Stefano Coletti and Stephane Richelmi wound up with slots on the sixth and seventh rows.

The track evolution made it look as though the pole position man was going to come from the second group, featuring the odd-numbered drivers.

And sure enough with three minutes remaining Marcus Ericsson went fastest and quicker than Chilton's benchmark with a 1:21.249, meaning that the odd-numbered drivers would start from the odd-numbered grid positions.

He looked to have timed it perfectly as immediately afterwards Rodolfo Gonzalez found the barriers after losing control at the entry to the swimming pool. His car stricken in the middle of the track, the red flags came out, although Gonzalez did get out unharmed.

The cars returned to the track when the session was restarted and it was Cecotto who pulled a last-gasp flyer out of the bag to top the timesheets, just as he had done in free practice. The Barwa Addax driver has previously only twice finished in the points in 45 GP2 Series starts – the first of those coming with a fourth place finish in the Monaco sprint race in 2010.

Also chasing a maiden GP2 win on Friday will be Chilton who starts alongside him on the front row, with Ericsson and van der Garde looking fast on the second row.

Luiz Razia took the third fastest time at the end of the second session, and with it the fifth grid slot alongside Palmer. Championship leader Davide Valsecchi, the only man in the field to have previously won a race in Monaco, could only manage seventh on the grid after locking up heavily at Ste Devote on his final effort and being lucky to keep it out of the tyre barrier.

Kral will line up alongside him in eighth, with Fabio Leimer and Gutierrez completing the top ten. Coletti, Tom Dillmann, Richelmi and James Calado will all hope to make progress into the points from the sixth and seventh rows.