Davide Valsecchi was again the man to beat in GP2 qualifying at the second round of the 2012 season.
The DAMS driver repeated his pole position from the season opener at Malaysia, finishing up more than two and half tenths quicker than anyone else in the half hour session.
After setting the pace in the free practice session by more than six tenths, the Italian moved ahead on his third lap, before he then lowered the benchmark further to claim pole.
Esteban Gutierrez moved into P2 also early on for Lotus GP, and held on to the place for the duration of the session, which was interrupted by a red flag around the midway point.
Brendon Hartley, returning to GP2 in place of Jon Lancaster at Ocean this weekend, and Giedo van der Garde's Caterham collided at the final corner, breaking Hartley's front wing and leaving debris on the track.
Hartley finished the session in 21st place, but was later handed a five place penalty after being found responsible for the incident, which will leave him starting at the back.
Valsecchi's teammate Felipe Nasr followed up his Malaysia sprint race podium with third on the grid for just his second race weekend in GP2.
“You know I'm really happy today,” said Valsecchi. “It feels that today I deserve this pole more than the one in Sepang because there, I was a bit lucky because it was really close. Today, we were the best. I'm really happy. Tomorrow is another day. We need to prove that we have what it takes to stay at the front.”
The series veteran explained that he was looking forward to going up against Gutierrez, saying he regards the young Mexican as perhaps the best driver in the field.
“I'm really happy that tomorrow we will fight against Lotus GP and they have a really good car, one of the best really, against Gutierrez who is maybe the best driver of the Series, so everything is perfect to have a great show tomorrow and have a good race. It's a good challenge: when you fight for something it's better to fight with the best ones. Gutierrez seems to be one of the best so I'm really happy to start from the front row with him and then to have my teammate who is really strong just behind.”
Gutierrez said that traffic may have hampered his bid for pole, but said he was pleased to at the sharp end of the grid after a free practice incident had made life difficult in Malaysia.
“We were improving in the second stint and then we were in traffic which is something normal,” he said. “It happens. We lost two tenths in the last sector. We were fighting for pole definitely but in the end, I am still happy with this result because this is where we belong. In Malaysia, it was very tough. I made a mistake in Free Practice and then that was it. I did not know the track and it was not enough for qualifying. So today, I made sure that I would have the time to learn the track during free practice.”
Nasr added: “I have to say that I am really happy with this result today. I had a great car. The team did a super job to put both cars in front. It's only my second GP2 race weekend there is still a lot to learn about the Series, the car, the tyres, but it's a big improvement. For sure, to be starting the weekend like this is very positive. So I am pretty confident for the rest of the weekend.”
Behind the top three, Fabio Leimer qualified in fourth place for Racing Engineering, while Johnny Cecotto and Stephane Richelmi enjoyed impressive sessions and will share the third row of the grid. Marcus Ericsson posted the seventh best time, but he will take a ten place grid drop for his collision with Valsecchi in the Sepang sprint race.
The winner of that race James Calado will inherit the Swede's position on the grid, just ahead of the feature race winner and points leader Luiz Razia. Max Chilton was tenth, but was less than two tenths shy of third-placed Nasr in an extremely closely-fought battle away from the front row.