A quintet of Ford Falcons headed the timing screens following the opening day of practice for the City of Ipswich 400 at Queensland Raceway, round seven of the V8 Supercar Championship Series.

Fastest driver James Courtney upheld the honour of the many locally-based teams, with his Stone Brothers Racing/Jeld-Wen Falcon proving fractionally quicker than the pair of Victorian-based Ford Performance Racing entries. Winner last time out, Steven Richards usurped team-mate - and current championship leader - Mark Winterbottom for second fastest time.

Will Davison (Jim Beam Racing) and Craig Lowndes (TeamVodafone) followed to complete the all-Ford top five, before the first Holden Commodore appeared, driven by Supercheap veteran Russell Ingall, who continued his recent good form by heading the two factory Toll-HRT Holdens belonging to Mark Skaife and reigning champion Garth Tander.

"If we're not fast here, we're not going to be fast anywhere!" 28-year old Courtney said of his 'home' test track, "We made small changes as the track altered and, in tomorrow's qualifying, we'll have to look carefully so we won't get caught out in qualifying. The direction of the wind today affected the way the car hard to turn in and created understeer.

"I think the order will most likely stay the same tomorrow, but I am surprised that some Holden teams aren't closer. The track conditions are gradually cleaning up and it could all change by then."

The southern-based teams had to acclimatise with a new sealant on the track as much as everyone learning the vagaries of the brand new Dunlop control tyre introduced at the last round in Darwin.

"We come here with some trepidation, but we had a programme of suspension sorting that we stuck with," Richards revealed, "I had one little off-track excursion when I locked up a tyre, but they have good gravel traps here where I could make it out the other side, do a three-point turn and go again after cleaning all the gravel out. The track surface looks a lot blacker, but still feels good with these tyres."

Team mate Winterbottom reaffirmed that assessment.

"Coming here this year was one of the tracks where we needed to do the most work to handle the bumps," he added, "It just shows how much improvement in the right direction we've made in the past twelve months as I can't feel any difference between the old and new tyre."

Ingall admitted that the track surface could not be used as an excuse for Holden's apparently poor performance on the day.

"There must be something wrong if we are leading the 'Holden championship'!" he said of Supercheap's effort, "The sealant has been down for a while now, so you can't label that as the reason, so it must be the fact that we're all still coming to terms with the new tyre. It is definitely a car-tyre issue, but we were good right out of the truck and were still banging in times on 30-lap old tyres that matched those we set right from the start."

Both Skaife and Tander spent much of the session fine-tuning their cars, but it wasn't until the final handful of minutes that they improved on new rubber. Tander was languishing in 22nd spot before a last-gasp lap vaulted him into eighth position, while title rival Jamie Whincup emphasised that it was not purely a Holden 'problem' after logging only the 14th best time.

"The car was simply out of balance and we've got a lot of analysis overnight to find enough time to get into the top ten," the Vodafone driver admitted, "Qualifying is crucial, so we have a lot to learn about the new tyre here in a short time."

Holden racer Lee Holdsworth, twelfth fastest, said his GRM Valvoline VE 'still needed some changes to accommodate the tyre'.

"There doesn't seem to be a huge difference compared to Darwin, but I will be interested to see how it performs in much colder conditions when we get to our test track at Winton for the next round in a fortnight's time," he said.

Impressive again was the PCR Glenfords Ford driven by rising Kiwi star Fabian Coulthard, who topped the times during most of the session before slipping back to eleventh fastest. One reason though was his practice crash on Friday in Darwin, which ironically left him with one more set of fresher rubber than his rivals.

"We are quick, even if I'm still battling to get the best possible exit out of turn two onto the back straight," he said, enthusiastic about his prospects.

The first dedicated half-hour session had given some endurance co-drivers an opportunity to gain laps, with non-championship regulars Steve Owen, Warren Luff, Paul Radisich, Craig Baird, David Besnard, Dean Canto and Jason Bargwanna all being prominent.

 

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