Pulcini claims GP3 pole position in Barcelona and breaks the ART dominance

Zak Mauger/GP3 Series Media Service

Leonardo Pulcini has taken pole position for the opening round of the GP3 Series in Barcelona, Spain and breaks ART’s qualifying stranglehold that dates back 15 races to the start of the 2016 season.

The Italian, who was third in practice behind Antoine Hubert, set his fastest lap near the end of the session with a lap time of 1:32.258, that displaced the rookie Nikita Mazepin’s ART from the top spot and to claim Campos Racing’s first pole position after three seasons in GP3.

Russian Mazepin will start alongside Pulcini on the front row after leading for the majority of the session, outperforming his teammates and the favourites for pole after practice, Jake Hughes and Anthoine Hubert.

Hubert will line up third after looking the quickest early on, setting the fastest lap twice before he was pipped by team-mate Mazepin after ten minutes of the session. It was a good day for the Frenchman after he had signed to become a Renault affiliated driver before the session began. It will be an all-ART second row as Ferrari Development driver Callum Ilott lines up fourth and revealed his speed after being almost a second off the pace in practice.

MP Motorsport preparing for their debut Qualifying session
Photo: Joe Portlock / GP3 Series Media Service.

Dutch squad MP Motorsport starred in its debut qualifying session in the series with both Niko Kari and Dorian Boccolacci getting sideways early on through turn 13, Kari even riding the ‘sausage’ kerb on the exit of the corner, but both drivers pulled together their laps to line up fifth and sixth respectively. An impressive debut for the team and both drivers will be looking to head towards the podium in race one tomorrow.

Alongside Pulcini’s pole position, Simo Laaksonen was equally impressive for the Campos team on his debut in the series, qualifying in seventh place, only half a second off the Italian’s time. Alongside Laaksonen will be the fellow rookie driver David Beckmann. Beckmann, who was tenth in practice, out-qualified both of his more experienced team mates in the Jenzer Motorsport team and will be wanting to score solid points in his first race weekend.

It was a disappointing session for Trident. Whilst the cars didn’t show a huge amount of pace in practice, Giuliano Alesi had been quick in the early running and came in for the customary tyre change in third place (after only being 12th in the earlier practice). As the other drivers improved, Alesi could not find the extra pace from his Trident and will line up tenth for the opening race of the season, just behind team mate Alessio Lorandi.

Jake Hughes was fastest in practice but will start from 11th.
Photo: Zak Mauger / GP3 Series Media Service.

Even more head scratching will be going on in one quarter of the ART garage. Series returnee Jake Hughes, who was fastest in practice, could only improve on his practice pace by just over a tenth of a second and had to settle for 11th on the grid, over half a second off pole. Hughes and Alesi will be the ones to watch in tomorrow’s season opener and it will be interesting to see how far they can progress up the order.

12th on the grid went to Juan Manuel Correa in the second Jenzer Motorsport car as he looks for his first points in the series, ahead of Trident’s late signing Pedro Piquet. Pedro, the son of multiple Formula One World Champion Nelson, was in the running throughout the session for a top six position on the grid but fell to 13th as the track conditions became quicker at the end of the session. Tatiana Calderón will line up on the seventh row with Piquet but will want to move forward early on after finishing sixth in the earlier practice session.

Frenchman Julien Falchero has qualified in 15th after running slightly off strategy with the rest of the field as the Arden International cars struggled for outright pace throughout the day. Fellow Arden team-mates Joey Mawson and Gabriel Aubry will share the penultimate row of the grid. Aubry will be the most disappointed with the qualifying result after pushing in to the top ten in practice, whilst Mawson and Falchero filled the final two positions in the same session.

Diego Menchaca could not follow his Campos team-mates into the top ten and will line up in an Arden sandwich in 16th. The top 18 cars were covered by under a second. On the back row of the grid will be American Ryan Tveter for Trident, who struggled all session in his new team, and the British driver Will Palmer. Palmer was a late entry to the series for MP Motorsport but had been on for a quicker lap until he touched the gravel on the exit of turn 12 meaning he will be starting from last on the grid. Both drivers have given themselves a lot of work to do to move up through the field but have shown pace over the weekend, which suggests they will not get cut adrift at the back.

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