Matevos Isaakyan took his first pole of the season in the first World Series Formula V8 3.5 qualifying session in Bahrain, as title rival Pietro Fittipaldi was demoted down to fourth over track limits.
With the temperature rising as the desert track reached mid-day, the SMP Racing driver left it until his last lap of the session to set a 1m44.727s, edging out Fittipaldi by 0.095 seconds.
Championship leader Fittipaldi was the pace-setter for much of the 30-minute session as he battled with series debutants Tatiana Calderon and Henrique Chaves, who were both immediately on the qualifying pace.
Chaves, who is racing with AVF this weekend, clocked a 1m44.899s, putting him on provisional pole with two minutes remaining until the championship contenders relegated him to the second row.
But a track limits penalty for Fittipaldi reinstates the newcomer on front row, while the Brazilian himself will line up fourth - right behind teammate Rene Binder.
The third-row is occupied by RP Motorsport teammates Calderon and Yu Kanamaru, with SMP Racing stand-in Konstantin Tereshchenko seventh.
Fortec Motorsports’ Diego Menchaca and Alfonso Celis Jr will start race one in eighth and ninth as the latter complained of a continuing lack of speed and overheating issues with his car’s engine.
Rounding out the field is Roy Nissany as the RP Motorsport driver focussed on fine-tuning his set-up for tonight’s race after a bent steering column hampered his practice yesterday.