Stefano Coletti will start the opening race of the GP2 Series in Malaysia from pole position after a thrilling qualifying session on Friday in which the top three were covered by eight-thousandths of a second.
Coletti set his 1m44.280s best lap relatively early on his second run on the soft-compound tire, and sat out the last eight minutes of the Sepang session to watch his rivals attempt to knock him off the top of the times.
The first to come close was Carlin's Felipe Nasr, but his best effort was 0.008 second slower after a lock-up into the final hairpin and a snatch of oversteer on the way out. Then it was the turn of practice pacesetter James Calado, who had sat out the first 10 minutes of the session in his ART machine. His lap was slightly compromised by encountering traffic in the middle of Turn 6. He crossed the line just 0.004sec slower than Coletti's time, but the same amount quicker than Nasr, demoting the Brazilian to third.
Fabio Leimer, who was on top halfway through the session, failed to improve on his second run and will start fourth for Racing Engineering, ahead of Sam Bird for the new Russian Time squad.
Bird was involved in the most outrageous incident of the session, when Arden's Johnny Cecotto Jr. simply drove him off the track on the straight between Turns 6 and 7 when the Venezuelan felt Bird had held him up. Stewards are investigating. Cecotto's teammate Mitch Evans was sixth, the GP3 champion comfortably the top rookie in the session.
Rio Haryanto was seventh for Addax, ahead of Rene Binder, Coletti's teammate Simon Trummer and Tom Dillmann.
The other incident of note was a post-session weighbridge spat between Sergio Canamasas (12th) and Nathanael Berthon (18th). Canamasas appeared to prod Berthon in the head with his finger while making his point about on-track etiquette quite literally.
The cars of reigning champion team DAMS languished in 13th (Marcus Ericsson) and 16th (Stephane Richelmi).
Auto GP champion Adrian Quaife-Hobbs was 15th for MP Motorsport, while Conor Daly was 17th in his debut for the Hilmer team.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Stefano Coletti Rapax 1m44.280s
2. James Calado ART 1m44.284s + 0.004s
3. Felipe Nasr Carlin 1m44.288s + 0.008s
4. Fabio Leimer Racing Engineering 1m44.463s + 0.183s
5. Sam Bird Russian Time 1m44.598s + 0.318s
6. Mitch Evans Arden 1m44.618s + 0.338s
7. Rio Haryanto Addax 1m44.681s + 0.401s
8. Rene Binder Lazarus 1m44.687s + 0.407s
9. Simon Trummer Rapax 1m44.692s + 0.412s
10. Tom Dillmann Russian Time 1m44.731s + 0.451s
11. Julian Leal Racing Engineering 1m44.732s + 0.452s
12. Sergio Canamasas Caterham 1m44.761s + 0.481s
13. Marcus Ericsson DAMS 1m44.766s + 0.486s
14. Johnny Cecotto Jr Arden 1m44.788s + 0.508s
15. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs MP 1m45.191s + 0.911s
16. Stephane Richelmi DAMS 1m45.262s + 0.982s
17. Conor Daly Hilmer 1m45.289s + 1.009s
18. Nathanael Berthon Trident 1m45.378s + 1.098s
19. Kevin Ceccon Trident 1m45.491s + 1.211s
20. Ma Qing Hua Caterham 1m45.497s + 1.217s
21. Daniel de Jong MP 1m45.522s + 1.242s
22. Daniel Abt ART 1m45.593s + 1.313s
23. Jolyon Palmer Carlin 1m45.662s + 1.382s
24. Jake Rosenzweig Addax 1m45.708s + 1.428s
25. Pal Varhaug Hilmer 1m45.830s + 1.550s
26. Kevin Giovesi Lazarus 1m45.985s + 1.705s