Toll-Holden Racing Team's Will Davison snatched a last gasp quickest provisional time in the closing moments of the practice sessions for the V8 Supercar SKYCITY Triple Crown at Darwin's Hidden Valley.

Davison's VE Commodore vaulted ahead of teenage New Zealander Shane Van Gisbergen (SP Tools FG Falcon) with former Champion Craig Lowndes (Team Vodafone Falcon) a close third.

While Davison's team mate Garth Tander resisted the temptation to bolt on a fresher set of control Dunlop tyres, Davison admitted he had made the most of using nearly new rubber.

"I got caught out in New Zealand by not trying the changes we made on a better tyre and that affected my qualifying the next day," he said. "The ones I used today at the end weren't new but at least I put in a 'banker' lap to double check we are headed in the right direction. It was by no means an 'ego' trip to be fastest on Friday."

When quizzed about the importance of rubber in this much hotter climate than at preceding rounds in Victoria and Tasmania, Davison said: "You could see how much improvement there was (0.75-seconds) between a decent control tyre and one that was 'shagged'! I expect the old (2002) lap record might go when we get onto the option tyre."

Lowndes overcame an engine front pulley problem mid-session, remarking, "We had time to resolve it as, if it hadn't been fixed then, it could have become an issue. When we first went out we were sliding around. We fixed the understeer but have still got some work to do to fix oversteer and get a better balance.

"I tried some different suspension set ups to (team mate and points leader) Jamie (Whincup) but he came back more to my settings towards the end to be fourth fastest. It is going to be very interesting on the softer tyre as to when, how long and how quick we are as it is compulsory to use the set sometime during either Saturday or Sunday's race. Who knows?"

Van Gisbergen was joined in the top ten by Stone Brothers Racing team mate Alex (brother of Will) Davison.

"Both Alex and I were struggling with the older rubber we were running until we put on a fresher set and went from 25th to second fastest which shows how important the tyre is around here," van Gisbergen said. "We are struggling a little with straight line speed in comparison to others given this track has such a long straight."

In a remarkably incident free day of practice, very few drivers encountered problems other than occasional trips up an escape road exploring the maximum limits of adhesion.

Russell Ingall (Supercheap Auto Racing Commodore) did however lose valuable sorting time having to change a recalcitrant gearbox although James Courtney was disappointed to register a scant two laps before dropping a cylinder in his Jim Beam Racing Falcon.

"It happened in the first 20 minutes after I'd done a lap running a system's check and bedding in some brakes," he said. "On my second flying lap the motor lapsed onto seven cylinders so now I've no data to work with in regards to the tyre or handling."

Rounding out the top ten behind Whincup were Rick Kelly (Jack Daniels Racing VE), Ford Performance Racing's defending Darwin race winners Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards, Alex Davison (Irwin Racing) and rookie Tim Slade in the second Supercheap Auto Racing VE.

Notable drivers cagily keeping back their best rubber included Jason Bright (13th), Tander (17th), Todd Kelly (18th), Ingall (19th) and Steven Johnson (21st).