“Third was a good result considering I made it a bit hard for myself by making a mistake in the [qualifying] shoot-out,” Lowndes explained, “My car was very consistent, but we are still a little bit off the mark in terms of the pace that Will had today. The best thing to come out of today is that I have really reduced the points gap to Garth [Tander] as there are now only 27 points separating us in the standings,”
Whincup suffered even moreso at his pit-stop when the team had trouble with his left-front tyre. The champion went from a comfortable second to come out in seventh and was then passed by Jack Daniel's Todd Kelly and Garry Rogers' Michael Caruso to end up ninth on track and back in a battle for position that also offered Courtney second place and the opportunity to challenge Davison for the lead.
Whincup had been the quickest man in the morning's qualifying sessions, setting a new lap record at 1min 09.6670secs, but started the race from second on the grid after recording a shoot-out lap that was less than three-tenths off that of Davison. Having got the better start, the TeamVodafone driver didn't quite have the pace to stay with the eventual winner, before that lengthy pit-stop ended his hopes of a podium finish.
“I was disappointed with my result today,” Whincup said after crossing the line in sixth position, "Given our success here in the past, I was definitely looking for a better result, but I didn't have the soft tyre pace to match Will Davison, and then a stuck wheel nut during the pit-stop took away any chance of a podium finish. We will go away and have a look at our tyres and data and see where we can improve the car for tomorrow's longer race."
Kelly stormed up the order to grab fourth place, having seen a top three performance in qualifying ruined by a locked brake on the entry to turn one on his shoot-out lap. Undeterred, he consistently set some of the fastest lap times of the race to gradually climb up the order, helped by a charging start that netted him three positions at the first corner and a tactical masterstroke from race engineer Barry Hay, who decided to run the softer option tyre for the entire race and rotate the wheels at the car's compulsory stop.
“I'm still disappointed with the Shootout today,” Kelly admitted, “We had a really good car in qualifying and threw it away into the first corner and lost nine tenths right there. It was a bit disappointing, but the race was alright. I had to try and get past a few cars that were a bit slower because of starting tenth, but our genuine race speed was quicker that at least three or four of the cars in front and, on the soft rubber, trying to keep with those guys and pass them just killed our tyres. Had we qualified where we should have, we would have had good race pace without being held up, so to get back to fourth was a good day - and a better result than we've had the last few races.”
At the back of the field, Davison's Toll Holden Racing Team team-mate Tander was waging his own battle against the backmarkers, having been disqualified from qualifying and starting at the back of the grid. The former champion quickly moved into 13th place in the shorter Saturday sprint race, but finished 17th and lost ground on Whincup in the championship.
The weekend continues on Sunday with a 20-minute qualifying dash followed by the longer 200km race in the afternoon.