Garth Tander has continued his return to the top with a strong start to the ITM Hamilton 400 in New Zealand, again challenging Jamie Whincup in the V8 Supercar Championship Series.

The Toll Holden Racing team driver was quickest in practice today ahead of young Kiwi star Shane van Gisbergen and Whincup in front of a strong Friday crowd in the New Zealand city. Tander won both races at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide last month - victories some would say were complete and almost effortless - and continued that on the opening day in Hamilton.

"We are going well and we have to continue to go well given our start to the year. We haven't any room to slip up," Tander said, "The car was considerably better than last year. We went about tuning it on the run. It was a matter of ticking off what worked at the grand prix that would translate to Hamilton.

"Like everyone on pit-lane, we were a bit surprised with the amount of grip offered her. It offered more grip than last year which is strange given there's another year of wear. We will need to go faster tomorrow to stay near the top."

Whincup was content with his day, which had him on top for most of the last session before Tander changed to green tyres and nailed his time on the final lap.

"Most of us put greens on at the end to do our quickest time," he noted, "The three or four changes they have made to the track, I believe, are good improvements. We were not quite as good with the second set of greens but, all in all, it was pretty good. We have to make some changes I suppose, although I should have gone quicker. There's more than two tenths on fresh tyres. We have a bit of work to do."

van Gisbergen celebrated the announcement, earlier in the day, that he would stay with Stone Brothers Racing team for a further two seasons by seizing a top three spot, and appeared relaxed about the day heading into qualifying and the first race tomorrow.

"When we put the tyres on the car was pretty good at the end," the Kiwi reported, "We didn't quite get the best out of us, but it sets ourselves up for a good weekend. We will see how we go tomorrow and hopefully we are sitting across a couple or one tomorrow. It was pretty cool to get [the contract extension] out of the way and let everyone know. We are now just focused and pretty pumped. It reiterates why we have chosen to stay with SBR and it's a good feeling. Everything is working well and it's good."

The day was not so good for van Gisbergen's counterpart and role model Greg Murphy, a four time winner in New Zealand, who did not get an opportunity for a final run.

"We just put on our second set of tyres on the Castrol Commodore to do a fast lap and, on my first flier, coming out of turn eight, I got a little too close to the wall and just clipped it with the wheel and broke the steering," he revealed, "A bit disappointing really, but I made a mistake and that was it. Until then, I'd been reasonably happy with our speed, we'd been making improvements and going faster, so it had been a pretty good day, but I would have liked to have finished it properly."

Murphy still came in 19th, but was left with a lot of work to do overnight.