Arthur Pic took pole position for the opening race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season on DAMS’ debut in the series.
With top 19 drivers covered by just one second, the Frenchman was the pick of the bunch and to his first pole position in the series with a lap of 1m 40.027s.
Pic, fastest in both of Yesterday’s practice sessions, fended off a strong challenge from Lotus’ Richie Stanaway and later Comtec’s Nick Yelloly to open his 2012 campaign in impressive fashion.
The former Tech 1 driver said: “We got through a crazy amount of work this winter. I think our team covered the most laps, so this pole is a great reward for everybody.
“It's my first in Formula Renault 3.5 and the first for my team. I started from pole in Formula Renault 2.0 two years ago so I know what to do at the green light.”
The Frenchman briefly led the way in the early stages of qualifying before Stanaway topped the timesheets 11 minutes in.
Although he improved his time in the latter stages, he was usurped by the peerless Pic and the impressive Yelloly, who secured his first front row start in the category 0.134 adrift of pole position.
He said: “I wasn't all that happy with my first run. We made a few changes and the car was perfect. We were never among the front-runners in the collective tests but we knew that we had the speed. Now, let's see what happens in the race.”
Kevin Korjus bumped Stanaway down a further place to fourth, while Force India reserve driver Jules Bianchi completed the top five.
There were many casualties in the field with the cars so closely matched; Sam Bird dropped to ninth in the final minutes and star of pre-season testing Robin Frijns suffered with an engine map issue could only manage 12th, just ahead of last season’s rookie of the year Alexander Rossi.
Mikhail Aleshin, the 2010 champion, will start 21st for RFR.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Arthur Pic DAMS 1m40.027s 2. Nick Yelloly Comtec 1m40.161s + 0.134s 3. Kevin Korjus Tech 1 1m40.170s + 0.143s 4. Richie Stanaway Lotus 1m40.250s + 0.223s 5. Jules Bianchi Tech 1 1m40.266s + 0.239s 6. Jake Rosenzweig ISR 1m40.321s + 0.294s 7. Carlos Huertas Fortec 1m40.385s + 0.358s 8. Nico Muller Draco 1m40.419s + 0.392s 9. Sam Bird ISR 1m40.483s + 0.456s 10. Daniil Move P1 1m40.597s + 0.570s 11. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m40.682s + 0.655s 12. Robin Frijns Fortec 1m40.726s + 0.699s 13. Alexander Rossi Arden 1m40.741s + 0.714s 14. Nikolay Martsenko BVM Target 1m40.764s + 0.737s 15. Vittorio Ghirelli Comtec 1m40.776s + 0.749s 16. Marco Sorensen Lotus 1m40.785s + 0.758s 17. Will Stevens Carlin 1m40.796s + 0.769s 18. Zoel Amberg Pons 1m40.983s + 0.956s 19. Kevin Magnussen Carlin 1m40.986s + 0.959s 20. Andre Negrao Draco 1m41.123s + 1.096s 21. Mikhail Aleshin RFR 1m41.153s + 1.126s 22. Lewis Williamson Arden 1m41.169s + 1.142s 23. Giovanni Venturini BVM Target 1m41.351s + 1.324s 24. Lucas Foresti DAMS 1m41.407s + 1.380s 25. Anton Nebylitskiy RFR 1m41.576s + 1.549s 26. Yann Cunha Pons 1m42.209s + 2.182s