Happy Birthday, Giedo!
Giedo van der Garde (P1 Motorsport) is really living up to expectations at this, the first meeting of the season. Having performed consistently since the very start of the meeting, today he celebrated his 23rd birthday in style by winning pole position for the opening race. With the best time in group A, Robert Wickens (Carlin Motorsport) will also be starting from the front of the grid on Sunday.
The first qualifying session of the season saw the 26 Formula Renault 3.5 cars split up into two groups according to their car numbers, with the even numbers in group A and the odd numbers in group B.
Alvaro Barba (Prema Powerteam) was the first driver to clock a notable time (1'37''621), with Pablo Sanchez (Interwetten.com Racing Team) and Borja Garcia (RC Motorsport) close behind. In only his second flying lap, Robert Wickens then moved into provisional pole position, before improving his time at his very next attempt (1'37''004). Meanwhile, Marco Barba (International Draco Racing) climbed to third, just behind his brother Alvaro. The siblings were soon split, however, as Pasquale DiSabatino (Red Devil Team Comtec) and Borja Garcia sneaked in between them.
As the drivers' final lap approached, Julian Theobald (Fortec Motorsport) crashed off at Lesmo 2, and out came the red flag, bringing the session to a premature close.
That meant Robert Wickens held on to his first place, ahead of Alvaro Barba, Pasquale DiSabatino and Pippa Mann. The latter's fastest time was cancelled, however, as it was achieved while the red flag was out. She therefore conceded fourth place to Charles Pic, who will now start from the front row of the grid in race 1, where the top eight (the four fastest from each group) will start in reverse order.
The challenge for group B was simple. To start from pole, they would have to beat Wickens's time of 1'37''004.
Five minutes in, with Salvador Duran (Interwetten.com Racing) leading from Marco Bonanomi (Red Devil Team Comtec) and Julien Jousse (Tech 1 Racing), the yellow flag was raised after Aleix Alcaraz (RC Motorsport) crashed off.
Shortly afterwards came a flurry of quick times. Giedo Van der Garde took the lead with a time of 1'36''941, with Bertrand Baguette (International Draco Racing) in second and Marco Bonanomi third. On his next lap, Van der Garde improved his time to 1'36''480, while Bonanomi overtook Bertrand Baguette. Baguette then fell back two places as Fabio Carbone and Salvador Duran moved up into third and fourth respectively. The Belgian was able to reclaim fourth place, however, in a determined final run.
Giedo Van der Garde thus claims his first pole position in Formula 3.5 Series, and notches up his first four points of the season, as does Robert Wickens.
Giedo van der Garde: "It was a nice way to celebrate my birthday. It's also just reward for P1 Motorsport. Everyone has worked really hard to make sure we were ready for today. I'll have to be cautious in the first race and try and finish in the top three. Then I have to win race 2."
Robert Wickens: "I did what I had to do. My season has started with four points, which is a real positive. We have been among the leaders throughout and that can only be a good sign for the races."