Jamie Whincup made the perfect start to his quest to secure the 2008 V8 Supercar Championship title by setting the pace during the opening practice sessions of the weekend at Oran Park.
Whincup needs to finish only sixth in the first of three races during the weekend to lift the title for Team Vodafone but emerged as the man to beat in practice despite struggling with old tyres on his Falcon.
He eventually topped the times ahead of Russell Ingall and team-mate Craig Lowndes.
"That was a tough session the track is extremely slippery and is starting to degrade in sections which is going to impact on tyre wear during the race," he explained. "We struggled a bit with car balance on our used practice tyres but the car was very good on green tyres, which is good for qualifying as the further up the field you qualify the easier it is to stay out of trouble.
"My aim for the race will be to try and finish in the top six and wrap up the title so we can get out there and have some fun on Sunday."
The uncompromising circuit posed plenty of problems for many with the Ausdrill Ford Rising Stars Falcon of Michael Patrizi suffering an off-track excursion in the first of three non-qualifying sessions. Damage however was mainly cosmetic and the V8 Series rookie returned for the final session.
In most trouble however was second generation star Steven Johnson who endured a problematical day with several interruptions; one of which prompted a red flag break to the session.
"We had a throttle pedal break and I had to get my foot around the back of the mechanism to limp back to the pits – but that overheated the engine," he said.
"The second problem was a power steering pump failure just as I was going into the high speed turn one. It threw a belt off and I had to shut the engine down; the boys are doing a precautionary engine change tonight. With those dramas I wasn't able to set a time on good tyres so ended up in 21st spot."
Behind the lead trio in Friday's combined times are Rick Kelly, outgoing champion Garth Tander, Steven Richards, Lee Holdsworth, James Courtney, Mark Winterbottom and Jason Bright.
Only Winterbottom has a mathematical chance of denying Whincup the championship.