Ford Performance Racing annexed the front row of the grid for race one of the SkyCity Triple Crown at Darwin's Hidden Valley Raceway, with current V8 Supercar points leader Mark Winterbottom heading Steven Richards on a good day for the Blue Oval.

The fight for pole position was riveting in the first two sectors of qualifying, as the appearance of the ten entries destined for the shoot-out ebbed and flowed throughout, finishing with a last lap dash by Garth Tander which squeezed him into tenth and bumped Stone Brothers Racing's James Courtney. But Winterbottom and Richards drowned the rest in the third and final phase, putting in a thrilling last few minutes to put FPR on the front row for the first time in its history.

Winterbottom eventually put the Orrcon Falcon on pole with a time of 1min 09.9646secs, with only team-mate Richards - a scant hundredth slower - and Team Vodafone's Jamie Whincup able to get into the same bracket.

Fourth placed Garth Tander, the fastest Commodore driver, was a tenth adrift as he headed the second Vodafone Ford of Craig Lowndes, the surprising Jason Richards, Russell Ingall, Lee Holdsworth, Will Davison and Mark Skaife.

Neither HSV Dealer Team Holden made the shoot-out, with Rick Kelly only 13th fastest in a second session punctuated by a red flag interruption precipitated by team-mate Paul Dumbrell's accident.

"We were going reasonably well and then, going into turn six, caught neutral gear," Dumbrell reported, "All of a sudden, it disengaged, which spun us around and caused a red flag. That meant we had to sit out the rest of the session."

Both HSV cars had only just made the second phase, but that didn't prevent Kelly from feeling frustrated.

"We just didn't have the pace in qualifying," the former champion admitted, "We lost most of yesterday's practice session chasing the wrong set-up, which is 100 per cent my fault, so we had to scrap a lot of the things we tried in practice and treat the first qualifying session like a practice session. Because of that, we had to run two sets of green tyres to get us into the top twenty and that put us behind the eight ball."

Recently-confirmed Ford favoured team Stone Brothers Racing also fared poorly, with Shane Van Gisbergen in 22nd after Courtney had been bumped to eleventh, while Fabien Coulthard - one of the stars of the show last time out - managed only 15th.