Team Vodafone superstar Craig Lowndes has vowed to be 'a pain' in the closing rounds of the V8 Supercar Championship Series after leading the way in practice in Bahrain - but not at the expense of his team-mate and current points leader Jamie Whincup.

Lowndes showed early speed at the Gulf Air Desert 400 to set the practice pace, finding the speed that the Ford team has missed in recent years.

Mark Winterbottom, second in the Championship for Ford Performance Racing, was second while Whincup slotted into third place.

The third championship contender, Garth Tander, finished practice in the midfield in eleventh position.

"It's very much a focus point on the Championship," Lowndes said. "We are very conscious coming out of Bathurst considering the finishing rounds of last year's championship. We both made some errors and as a team we have spoken about it, trying to lift our game.

"I am out of the running but I can still be a pain. I am wanting to win races and look forward to next year. But one thing that has eluded us is having the number one on the car, there's no secret about that."

Winterbottom's form in Bahrain couldn't have been better and he took his first career win in the event last season - form his will look to repeat this time around.

"I hope Ford's dominance keeps going this year!" he said. "Each year it gets harder because the competition level has improved, but a third trophy back at the workshop would look pretty nice!

"Last year the car was really good but if you sit on your hands then everyone jumps you; everyone's quicker, everyone's improved. We tried last year's qualifying set-up at the beginning of that session but made improvements and made it better.

"My focus is Jamie now. He's in front of me in the points not Garth. I'm not really looking for him until he passes me in the points and then I'll be concerned."

While happy to be up in the top three, Whincup acknowledged it was early days, and the real test would be when qualifying takes place.

"We are really trying to bounce back from our poor result last year," he said. "The changes we have made have proven we have moved forward, we now need to carry this momentum into tomorrow and be mindful of tyre wear.

"It was a fantastic overall team result today, let's hope we can replicate it in qualifying. The higher up the grid Craig is, the better it is for me."

Lee Holdsworth was fourth quickest, while Stone Brothers Racing pairing James Courtney and Shane van Gisbergen completed the top six.

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