British Formula 3 veteran Max Chilton claimed a surprise pole position for the opening race of the season in first qualifying at Oulton Park today.
The 17-year-old younger brother of BTCC racer Tom lapped the International circuit in a blistering 1m27.830s with just 60 seconds remaining of the 30-minute session.
That time put the Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen driver on pole by 0.275s from Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo - five tenths inside reigning champion Jaime Alguersuari's 2008 pole time and 1.5s under the lap record.
"I couldn't tell you where that time came from," said Chilton after claiming his third ever British F3 pole. "I thought it was quite a slow lap actually and there were a couple of scrappy corners, but I just kept pushing every lap of the session and it finally all came together at the end."
Pre-season title favourite Ricciardo led the timesheet for much of the session, which was punctuated by a red flag 10 minutes in when Victor Correa went off at the Brittans chicaine, tore off the front wing and damaged the left front suspension on his Litespeed SLC Mugen-Honda.
When the session resumed, Ricciardo, Chilton and Fortec driver Riki Christodoulou all took turns at the head of the times – shaving thousandths of a second off each other's times, all in the 1m28.1s bracket.
With five minutes left, Ricciardo banged in a 1m28.105s lap and thought he'd done enough to take the top spot, until Chilton milked his moment of inspiration.
"There wasn't much more to come from the car," admitted Ricciardo. "It was good before the red flag, but afterwards I think the tyres went out of their operating window and the track got away from us a bit.
"I had some high-speed understeer and wasn't great at picking the gaps in traffic, but we're still on the front row and hopefully we can go better in the next session."
Japanese rookie Daisuke Nakajima pulled out a stellar lap late in the day to go third fastest, just over a tenth of second adrift of Ricciardo's best.
The Raikkonen Robertson Dallara-Mercedes racer pipped JTR's Nick Tandy by just four one thousandths of a second as the pair locked out row two.
Tandy waited until after the red flag to join in the on-track action and set a 1m28.240s lap, good enough for second on his sixth lap. But trouble in traffic and some over-aggressive driving in Hislop's chicane prevented him from ultimately figuring in the pole fight.
Hitech driver Walter Grubmuller used a last-gasp effort to pip Christodoulou for fifth place on the grid. The top 10 drivers were covered by just over a second.
Expected frontrunners T-Sport continued to struggle in qualifying. Brazilian Adriano Buzaid and reigning British Formula Ford champion Wayne Boyd finished the session 10th and 11th fastest respectively, over a second slower than poleman Chilton.
Pos Driver Team Car Time Gap
1. Max Chilton Carlin D/V 1m27.830s
2. Daniel Ricciardo Carlin D/V 1m28.105s +0.275
3. Daisuke Nakajima Double R D/M 1m28.236s +0.406
4. Nick Tandy JTR M/M 1m28.240s +0.410
5. Walter Grubmuller Hitech D/M 1m28.263s +0.433
6. Riki Christodoulou Fortec D/M 1m28.309s +0.479
7. Henry Arundel Carlin D/V 1m28.422s +0.592
8. Carlos Huertas Double R D/M 1m28.423s +0.593
9. Oliver Oakes Carlin D/V 1m28.654s +0.824
10. Adriano Buzaid T-Sport D/V 1m28.894s +1.064
11. Wayne Boyd T-Sport D/V 1m29.134s +1.304
12. Victor Garcia Fortec D/M 1m29.315s +1.485
13. Hywel Lloyd CF D/H 1m29.473s +1.643
14. Daniel McKenzie Fortec (N) D/H 1m29.554s +1.724
15. Jay Bridger West-Tec M/H 1m29.583s +1.753
16. Gabriel Dias T-Sport (N) D/H 1m29.884s +2.054
17. Stephane Richelmi Barazi Epsilon D/M 1m30.793s +2.963
18. Victor Correa Litespeed (N) S/H 1m31.027s +3.197
19. Max Snegirev West-Tec (N) D/H 1m31.529s +3.699