In-form TeamVodafone reversed its great start to the V8 Supercar Championship Series on the opening day of Melbourne's non-championship event, but only by car as Craig Lowndes held off a charging Kiwi brigade in qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.
Lowndes set a V8 Supercar qualifying and practice record for the Albert Park track on his way to the front, holding off the New Zealand duo of Fabian Coulthard (Wilson Security Racing) and Team BOC's Jason Richards. Lowndes' team-mate, Jamie Whincup, went from penthouse to outhouse, however, finishing 19th after late engine dramas denied the dominant Clipsal 500 winner the chance of a late charge.
“We had our bad luck last weekend and got over it, now we just seem to have transferred that bad luck to the other side of the garage,” Lowndes noted, “It's nice to bounce back from Adelaide in great shape. We didn't have the best time in Adelaide, and we've still we've got the [Top Ten] Shootout tomorrow, but it's a good start. It's a shame for Jamie because he was pretty pumped after a great practice this morning and probably thought he should have been up here.”
Whincup was only able to complete one timed lap,but won't know his final grid position until after tomorrow's Top Ten Shootout as the unique format of the Sprint Gas Manufacturers' Challenge sees the Ford and Holden ranks form up line astern on opposite sides of the grid, with the highest placed driver determining which manufacturer takes which side.
“I am a bit disappointed that I didn't finish today further up the order given our practice result but, thankfully, we have had the problem at this event and not at a championship round,” Whincup pointed out, “Today was still very encouraging with Craig quickest in qualifying, and hopefully he will get pole tomorrow which will see me start off grid position 15."
New Zealanders Coulthard and Richards were 'pumped' after a great day, although Coulthard was reserved about what was to come.
“I've been up here before,” he said, “The Top Ten Shootout is a true test of how you are going. I'm not looking to go backwards, but there's a high possibility of it. [The rest of the field] have been around a long time and know the tricks of the trade - and I'm still learning.”
Richards made the move from New Zealand-owned team Sprint Gas Racing to Team BOC this year and produced a first-up fifth place at the Clipsal 500, before backing it up today.
“It was a big call over Christmas to leave Sprint Gas and move to Team BOC,” he admitted, "but we had a great weekend in Adelaide. To back it up here and be the best Holden is great. I'm confident I will be right up there. I'm still trying to impress the new boss - he gave me an 'A plus' after Clipsal and I don't even know what that is. I certainly didn't get one of those at school!