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“IT SEEMS LIKE A CLASSIC”

21 September, Singapore - World Champion Sebastian Vettel set himself up for a hat-trick of victories at Marina Bay Street Circuit when he planted his Red Bull Renault on pole position for Sunday’s 2013 Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix.

Vettel, winner here in 2011 and 2012, took his second Singapore pole, his fifth of 2013 and the 41st of his career with a stunning display of pace and commitment around the 23-corner, 5.073km layout.

“Even though it hasn’t been on the calendar for decades,” said Vettel, “it still feels like a classic and it’s a very nice place to come to. It’s such a nice race, it means a lot to me.”

In the second segment of the qualifying hour Vettel set a time of 1 minute 42.905 seconds, the fastest ever seen in Singapore; in the final Q3 segment he improved to 1:42.841, gambled on not making a second run then watched the monitors anxiously as his competitors tried desperately to match him.

“It’s a weird feeling,” he admitted, “to stand in the garage with two minutes to go, it’s too late, you see the others on their final attempt and there’s nothing you can do.”

Three of those others  came close: teammate Mark Webber was quick early in  his second run but tailed off and was edged out by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus Renault, then Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes claimed the other front-row spot with a time just 0.091s slower than his fellow-German.

Rosberg, who finished second in Singapore in 2008, said Vettel had been just out of reach all weekend. “But second gives me a good start,” he added, “and I’m confident with our race pace.”

Grosjean bounced back brilliantly from a challenging Friday with various mechanical problems. “It was a complicated start to the weekend,” said the Frenchman, “so third is a good place to start from. In the end yesterday didn’t look too bad and I knew we had a good baseline to start from.”

In Saturday’s opening track action England’s Jolyon Palmer pulled off a stunning comeback to win the first GP2 race in a 1-2 finish with Carlin teammate Felipe Nasr of Brazil.

The two started the 28-lap race from the front row of the grid but pole-sitter Palmer dwelt on the line and was passed by both Nasr and championship leader Fabio Leimer’s Racing Engineering entry.

By the time the pit stops came and went Palmer was 15 seconds behind Nasr, but on the harder Pirelli tyres he clawed his way back relentlessly, passed the Brazilian at Turn 6 on lap 25 and streaked away to win by 13 seconds.

James Calado was third for ART Grand Prix while Leimer came home fifth – good enough to extend his title lead to 12 points as nearest rival Sam Bird could manage only eighth. Bird will have his chance to fight back in Sunday’s sprint race: the top eight in Race 1 are reversed to form the top eight starters so Bird will be on pole.

Palmer’s father Jonathan, a former Grand Prix driver with several teams including Tyrrell, was thrilled with his son’s second GP2 victory: “This is the best win ever,” he said. “But he made it hard work! He bogged the start then got held up by Leimer. To come from 15 seconds behind and overtake your teammate on the same tyre strategy is a phenomenal effort. He’s turning into a very special driver.”

It’s a tale of two Kiwis in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia where series leader Earl Bamber of Nexus Racing will start Sunday’s 12-lap race from pole position with Craig Baird alongside him in the SC Global GT3 Cup car.

Bamber set a time of 2m 19.955s on his second quick run to edge out his compatriot by just 0.087s. With Baird – winner here for the last two years – not engaged in the full series that gives 23-year-old Bamber the upper hand over title rival Martin Ragginger of Austria, whose Team Eagle entry starts from fourth on the grid. Reigning champion Alex Imperatori starts third in the Team Starchase car.

With only the Singapore race and two more in the final round in China remaining, series newcomer Bamber leads by 13 points after taking four wins this season, the same number as Ragginger.

The top six Porsches on the Marina Bay Street Circuit grid are covered by less than half a second.