Reigning V8 Supercar champion Garth Tander vaulted to the top of the timing screens with less than a minute remaining of Saturday's Midas 400 practice sessions at Sandown International Raceway, giving Holden top honours after they appeared to be going the way of rival Ford.

Tander's perfectly-timed lap in the Toll HRT Commodore supplanted a quartet of Falcons comprised of James Courtney, Mark Winterbottom, Jamie Whincup and Will Davison, and came as compensation for having made his day more difficult by colliding with Supercar rookie Michael Patrizi in the morning session.

"I only got a lap in when the contact nearly tore a wheel off, so we missed most of the first session and was behind the eight-ball thereafter," Tander commented, "We put a set of [fresh] tyres on right at the end and went fastest but, even then, the first sector time wasn't that good."

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"We did a fair bit of damage in the incident with Patrizi. It looked like he left me room to go through, but then he must have decided he didn't want me to pass. There was contact and it tore a wheel off and did a fair bit of damage.

"Someone said through the week I don't go too well here, so we're doing okay if that's the case. To be honest, [the car] wasn't quite where it needed to be, but we've got to be careful we don't engineer it back through the pack. We need to make it flow a little better, improve turn-in stability, but be mindful that we've got a good car."

Courtney, meanwhile, was confident with progress Stone Brothers Racing was making with his near-new Falcon, having maintained his reputation for being fast around Sandown.

"Sandown is the type of track that suits our car with its short, sharp corners, as you have to be aggressive," he related, "We didn't change [the suspension] much as the guys had hit the nail on the head getting the car off the truck and onto the track straight away. We were good here last year, and I'm looking forward to my much-needed first win as it has been way, way too long in coming."

Last round winner Winterbottom was disappointed at not being able to exploit his Ford Performance Racing car's potential, complaining of traffic right at the end of the day, but insisted that his race pace will be strong.

Davison, meanwhile, is confident of making further improvements overnight and still believes there is room for more speed in the #18 Jim Beam Falcon prior to qualifying on Sunday morning.

"The car still isn't quite there and there is definitely room for improvement," he noted, "Having said that, to be top five and know there is still some speed left holds us in good stead. We had a decent car today and I am happy with we're we are at at this stage of the weekend."

Whincup and Triple Eight Engineering team-mate Craig Lowndes both suffered matching suspension failures at identical times, bringing out a red flag whilst the cars were retrieved. A broken pin on the right front wheel hub caused both cars to grind to a halt with the wheel canted at a drunken angle, and Lowndes in particular was fortunate to pull the car up before encountering the Armco barrier in turn three.

"There wasn't any warning," he admitted, "We've got through riding high kerbs at street races like Adelaide and Hamilton without a problem, so we'll just have to revert back to what we previously ran and investigate why there was a failure. It happened at the high speed apex of turn two - I heard a crack and was fortunate not to hit the wall at the next corner. Luckily, there was a 25-minute break between sessions, so the boys could turn both our cars around again - even if we lost some track time."

Whincup's similar problem occurred at the last corner, 'when the suspension was under load', but the points frontrunner also lost 'a good tyre' which blew out when the part broke.

"Overall, though, I am very happy with the sessions," he insisted, "It was extremely close at the top and we were right up there all day. We had an exceptionally good car in the middle of the final session, but we decided to make a few changes which lost us front end grip. We then ran out of time to change it back, so we put our new tyres on but didn't make any gains. I am very confident we will have a much better car for qualifying."

Rounding out the top ten were Rick Kelly, Tander's team-mate Mark Skaife, Lee Holdsworth, Paul Dumbrell and Fabian Coulthard, although the latter lost a Dunlop control tyre due to a brake lock-up and had to set a time when the track wasn't at its optimum.

Kelly commented that he was surprised to see the times covering the top ten so close together, with just a couple of tenths separating the leading positions.

"Rolling the car out of the truck as fast as we did, it is difficult to find a better set-up," he reported, "We basically went up and down with several changes on the car just to confirm we were on the right track and towards the end we bolted on the better tyres. It was tough to get a good flying lap at that time with all the traffic.

'Apart from that, the times are a little bit closer than I imagined - a tenth-and-a-half gets us up to where Garth is. We haven't got much time to find out there but, because it is a short lap, it will be tough to get that last bit out of it"

Further back, Jason Richards was enthusing over his brand new Sprint Gas VE Commodore, which puts him in comparable equipment to fellow Kiwi Greg Murphy.

"This new car is so stable under brakes, and we are back as a team now that we can share data - although I'm going to have to learn the Pi acquisition system as I've used Motec almost ever since I was in a Formula Ford back in 1995!" Richards commented.

Throttle issues plagued Jason Bright's Fujitsu Falcon throughout the closing stages, while Holdsworth was experimenting with shock absorbers and anti-squat settings. Todd Kelly wasn't able to set a representative time in his Jack Daniels Commodore, having been compromised by a malfunctioning rear anti-roll bar that kept changing to a soft setting.

Paul Radisich was among several drivers lined up for this season's endurance races that took advantage of a run in the first 30-minute practice session, piloting the #15 VE Commodore of Rick Kelly

"It was kind of nice to get behind the wheel again," the Kiwi commented, "We did a couple of days last week at Winton - well, when I say a couple of days, I mean 20 or 30 laps - so it was kind of nice to get back in the swing of things on a different track and in completely different conditions for that half hour we had."

Most drivers concurred that tomorrow's elimination-style qualifying session will prove crucial to the outcome of the weekend's three 39-lap races, with Tander confessing that the start could be more manic than of late at Sandown.

"When Sandown was a 500km endurance race, everyone was a little gentlemanly into turn one," he noted, "but I don't think that will be the case with three sprint races."