The car of ART Grand Prix's Jules Bianchi will line up on pole position for the feature race of this weekend's 5th and 6th rounds of the 2009/2010 GP2 Asia Championship, after one of the tightest sessions in recent GP2 History.
Frenchman Bianchi set about grabbing his maiden pole position early on in the session, as he went out early and put down a bench mark time for all the others to aim for, and this time was finally beaten by Championship leader Davide Valsecchi, the iSport International driver opting for a different qualifying strategy, as he headed out when the track was clear of traffic.
With 10 minutes of the session remaining, the times and order started to change, and the MayalsiaQi-Meritus.com car of Luca Filippi took provisional pole position before Bianchi; a man on a mission retook the spot with a flying lap, setting improved sector times in the first and third sectors, combined with an equally impressive middle sector. Meanwhile, the Arden International car of Javier Villa was also becoming a force, and set the third best time. This pushed the Championship leader into 4th place.
In the last minute of the session, Valsecchi improved his best time and looked to have secured provisional pole before Bianchi bettered Valsecchi's time by 4 thousands of a second, this being enough to secure his maiden pole in the Championship.
For Valsecchi, he is looking forward to the race and is happy with his qualifying performance, and commented: “We are P2. Really good and we were always competitive. My car was really strong and really competitive and really fast. We just missed the pole position by less than one tenth so it was extremely competitive. I hope tomorrow to make a good start and to fight for the win. If we can stay out of trouble in the first corner, because here it's a bit tricky, I hope to make a good race”.
Third placed Javier Villa of Arden International said about his qualifying session: “It was a good qualifying session – and very close, with less than half a tenth between the top four drivers. The car didn't feel as though it was in qualifying trim, though. It was fast and consistent, which is encouraging from a race perspective. I feel optimistic about tomorrow. The team has done a lot of good work since Abu Dhabi – we've taken a big step forward and I'm sure we can continue in this direction.”
“The circuit's grip level improved significantly between free practice and qualifying, but the set-up changes we made were just right for the conditions. Things will doubtless evolve again before the race starts, but I'm confident the car will be perfect.”
Such is the competitiveness of the Championship, the top 5 positions on the grid are filled by drivers from 5 different teams, and Oliver Turvey, Valsecchi's iSport International team mate is the first driver to break the chain, and he has this to say about qualifying: “We had a good free practice this morning. I was pleased as it was my first time on this circuit and we
were quick, we were third in free practice and only a few hundredths off, so I hoped to be a bit further up this afternoon. The first run was good, we were second quickest on the first set of the tyres but then on the second set of tyres we didn't really improve enough. I had quite a lot of understeer in the car which affected us. Also on the second set of tyres there was quite a lot of traffic, I only got one clear lap which I don't think really helped. We should still be able to get a podium tomorrow and have a good race. The first corner is very tricky so I hope to stay out of trouble there and aim for the podium”.
It was a session to forget for the Super Nova team, with their drivers, American Jake Rosenzweig and Swede Marcus Ericsson, both starting at the tail of the grid. It was both drivers first time at the 6.3km Sakhir track, and the team principle, David Sears, had this to say: “This is the first time that both of our drivers have been to the Bahrain circuit and unfortunately it shows in our Qualifying performance. With much time spent on learning the track and working from last year's data, when incidentally we were one of the fastest cars on track, today has shown what a steep learning curve GP2 can be. Hopefully we will have a more productive race tomorrow.”
The feature race will start at 10am GMT, 1pm local time and is being shown live on British Eurosport 2, with coverage starting at 9.45am.
Photo credit: GP2 Series