Toro Rosso Formula 1 driver Jaime Alguersuari dispelled any apprehensions over running a dual program by claiming his first Formula Renault 3.5 pole position at Portimao today.
Alguersuari's time of 1m33.462s was almost 0.5 second quicker than his Carlin teammate Oliver Turvey. With no Superpole session in the Le Mans Series supporting meeting, the lap gifted the Spaniard his first pole since the British Formula 3 final at Donington Park last year.
"I am so pleased as qualifying was the area we really needed to work on," said Alguersuari. "It is actually quite difficult for the first ten laps coming back to World Series as you familiarise yourself again. It is not just the brakes and power, it is the things like the seating position and mirrors, but a good driver should be able to adapt.
The circuit is very bumpy and the track conditions have changed a lot since this morning, where we weren't able to show our true performance because of an engine problem. It was very slippery this afternoon, but I'm happy with our margin, I think it is quite impressive. Maybe some other drivers couldn't put a lap together, I am sure Ollie could have done a faster time."
Fairuz Fauzy repeated his free practice form to set the fastest time in the earlier A Group, and will join Alguersuari on the front row for tomorrow's feature race. Silverstone winner Charles Pic was just a tenth of a second adrift of the Malaysian in the A group, but ahead of championship leader Bertrand Baguette.
Jon Lancaster will start from pole position for the reverse grid race, courtesy of fourth in the B group. Frenchman Guillaume Moreau provided a morale boosting step forward in performance with newcomer SG Formula to finish eighth overall.
The scorching Algarve heat took a toll on both lap times and machinery. With track temperatures 25 degrees higher than this morning, and the advent of a high wind, many drivers were shocked to find themselves around two seconds slower than their morning times.
"I think it is largely the heat," said third qualifier Turvey. "There was also no wind this morning and it has really picked up now."
A far higher than average number of engine related problems hit the usually reliable 480bhp, 24V, V6 motors in practice and qualifying.
Lancaster's new Comtec teammate, GP2 racer Alberto Valerio, was suspected to have had two failures, while an engine problem denied British F3 graduate Daniel Ricciardo the opportunity of setting a competitive time in qualifying.
Championship protagonists James Walker and Marcos Martinez were at a loss to explain their relative slumps in performance. Both Walker, a provisional 16th, and Martinez in 19th are eagerly waiting to exam the data.
"This weekend is really strange," said Martinez. "Every session we have been losing 1.5s to our competitors and we don't know why. We have changed everything we can think of, like the differential and some big changes to the base set-up, but it is not working out.
"Even Walker who was fastest yesterday is struggling; perhaps it is because it is the first time we have run the car in this heat."