Antonio Felix da Costa - Photo Credit: Daniel Kalisz/GP3 Media Service

Antonio Felix da Costa celebrates pole in Barcelona - Photo Credit: Daniel Kalisz/GP3 Media Service

Antonio Felix da Costa ended the 2011 GP3 Series season with a victory and was again the man on top in qualifying as the 2012 season gets underway in Barcelona.

The Carlin driver took his first pole position in the category with a fastest time within the final five minutes of the session. Conor Daly had moved into P1 shortly before that, and although he was initially pushed down the order he returned to the front row with an improved lap before the end of the session. It was 0.078 seconds shy of Felix da Costa's time.

Daly's Lotus GP teammate Aaro Vainio took third, only 0.012s behind the American. Pre-season title favourite Mitch Evans had been trading fastest times with Felix da Costa earlier in the session but the MW Arden ace could only manage fourth on the grid for a race he won from pole position last year.

Marlon Stockinger put himself in a good position to improve on his best GP3 result from last year of tenth by taking fifth place on the grid for Status Grand Prix. Tio Ellinas was the best debutant in sixth for Marussia Manor Racing, an impressive result considering his car had stopped on him in free practice on Friday without setting a timed lap. He could yet incur the wrath of the stewards however after he set a purple sector time through the final sector during a yellow flag period early in the session.

Fellow debutants Daniel Abt and Patric Niederhauser are set to share the fourth row of the grid. Abt proved the quality of Lotus' driver trio by ensuring all three qualified within the top seven, while Niederhauser had taken top spot for Jenzer Motorsport with five minutes remaining from Daly before being knocked off by Felix da Costa.

Free practice pacesetter Matias Laine couldn't repeat his pace in qualifying and could only manage ninth for MW Arden. A trouble free race should still see him improve on his best result of 2011 of 14th. 16-year-old Russian Dmitry Suranovich was a fine tenth fastest for Marussia Manor at the start of his first full season of single-seater racing.

David Fumanelli had led the field out of the pits at the start of the session in the third MW Arden car, and was therefore the man to beat in the early stages. As the track improved he found himself shuffled down towards the bottom of the timing screens having already returned to the pits. When he rejoined he had to work hard to get by some slower, weaving cars, forcing him to lock up under braking for turn 10 as he attempted to get by a seemingly oblivious William Buller. Fumanelli finished up 11th for his GP3 debut.

The winner of the sprint race at the Circuit de Catalunya last year, Tamas Pal Kiss took 12th for Atech CRS GP ahead of the Carlin duo of Alex Brundle and Buller, who finished up the session in the gravel trap at turn four.

Romanian rookie Robert Visoiu was 15th for Jenzer, ahead of Kotaro Sakurai (Status) and Antonio Spavone (Trident Racing). Alice Powell qualified in 18th for her GP3 debut in the third of the Status cars.

Fabiano Machado, John Wartique, Ethan Ringel, Jakub Klasterka and Robert Cregan were next up, with female racers Carmen Jorda and Vicky Piria the slowest of those to set a time.

Reigning Auto GP champion Kevin Ceccon will be forced to make his GP3 debut from the back after his Ocean car screeched to a halt under braking at the final chicane just five minutes into the session.

The first race of the 2012 GP3 Series season gets underway at 16:20 BST, live on Sky Sports F1 HD.