ART Grand Prix's two drivers showed their speed and their desire to get the 2010 GP2 Series title fight off to a good start. Jules Bianchi landed the pole for this weekend's season opener in Barcelona, Spain. His teammate, Sam Bird, was fastest in the practice session but missed the front row by two-tenths of a second to Barwa Addax Team's Sergio Perez.
"I feel really good!" smiled Bianchi. "I think it was a really good opportunity that we were in the front because the track was better in the first half of the qualifying, because after, with the second set, nobody improved. I think we did a really good qualifying, and it's really good for me to be in pole position in my first race in GP2."
With a time of 1:27.727 on the Catalunyan circuit, Bianchi was the only driver to break the 1:28 mark and laid down the challenge before the half-way mark. The Frenchman's time of 1:27.727 was untouchable no matter how hard his rivals and his own teammate pushed to top him and steal away the pole.
The Frenchman knew that Bird and Perez were turning hot laps and in his own effort to stay on top, he spun in the chicane -- a rookie mistake -- but still held on.
Help came from Perez who was getting close but then came into the pits early on a fast lap. The Hispanic racer's best lap of 1:28.011 landed him on the front row while Bird could only put down a time of 1:28.241.
"I am reasonably happy to be on the front row for tomorrow," said Perez in the press conference," and I think we are in a very good position to fight for a win: I think it is going to be very hard, as there are a lot of very good drivers behind us, so it is going to be a very hard race but we've seen in testing that in qualifying our car is not so good but in the races we are very confident that we are very good, especially if it is very hot tomorrow."
When asked why he dove into the pits on a his best lap the Addax driver replied, "we saw where we did a very good sector but then we found some traffic, and we knew that the track was slower so we came in to save the tyres, so that we have them for tomorrow and can see where we are."
Coming off his second place earned at the final race in the GP2 Asia Series rookie Bird is ready for his first race the in main series, "Obviously in this qualifying he [teammate Bianchi] did a better job than I did, he's sitting in P1 and I'm sitting in P3, but I think I've got to remember that this is my first GP2 qualifying so I'm a little bit disappointed, but not too much, with third but come on, it's my first one, so it's not the end of the world: I think we'll still be fighting for the win tomorrow, but like the other two have said there are still a lot of good drivers around me, so it's going to be tough for sure."
Joining Bird on the second row is Christian Vietoris, who just missed third by .013 of a second. The German already has one win in the Asia series under his belt but starting with a new team for the main series means he's a rookie all over again. The Racing Engineering team will be doing all they can in tomorrow's feature race to get this proven winner on the top spot.
"Bianchi was very fast today and fourth position isn't bad," said Vietoris, "but I know that more was possible. I struggled as I found a lot of traffic on the track and I think second position was within reach today. Tomorrow we have the feature race, which will include a pit stop, and my target is to definitely be on the podium. I also think that a win is not impossible."
With six rookies in the top eight Oliver Turvey and Charles Pic will make their European debut on the third row, fifth and sixth respectively. Both drivers tasted victory once in the Asia series. Behind them is Dani Clos in seventh, almost a veteran with the 2009 season under his belt compared to the drivers ahead that have only done four weekends over the winter months. Marcus Ericsson racing for Super Nova rounds out the top eight. The Japanese Formula 3 champion has caught the eye of Ross Brawn, so big things might be expected of Ericsson as the season progresses.
Tomorrow's feature promises to be a close battle with many of the front runners capable of winning. Interestingly enough, the current Asia Series champ, Davide Valsecchi only qualified 10th for iSport, far slower than expected after dominating the sport just a few months ago.
"Not a great day for us." admitted Valsecchi. "I was not fast enough to fight for the top. It's a shame because I really wanted to be quick enough to be there to fight tomorrow for something important, but I was not fast enough to stay at the top, I was always, eight, ninth, tenth. Anyway, I hope for a good race tomorrow but we cannot fight for the victory or the podium, we have to fight for something less than that and try and get some good points."
Stayed tuned to Motorsport.com for tomorrow's feature race, where all the drivers will fight for something, mainly the attention of a Formula One team with the hopes of a full ride in the 2011 season.