Ford Performance Racing has taken provisional pole for the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 after leading the way in Friday's 60 minute opening qualifying session.

Winterbottom posted a time of 2min 07.1920secs during the session, less than half a second outside the lap record, to put the #6 Falcon he will share with regular FPR team-mate Steven Richards at the head of the pile.

The quick lap came right at the end of the session and was the start of Winterbottom's quest to exorcise the demons of twelve months ago, when he was caught out by late rain shower when victory was almost in his grasp.

"I'm over what happened last year but back then it was burning pretty badly," he said. "There's highs and lows in motorsport but qualifying pole today is a high; I'm just lucky that Richo had me back as a team-mate!

"You have to respect this place. The first time you go out on greens it scares you but the more laps you do the better you get.

"Today, it was good to get the time right at the end and build the suspense a little bit! It was quite hard to do because I only had one last crack. The first two sectors weren't that special but I got a good last sector and got the time."

Winterbottom's lap was just 0.0413s quicker than Jason Richards, who had elected to head out on track early in the Sprint Gas Racing Commodore in an effort to log a lap before any potential rain arrived. Only Winterbottom's late lap proved to be quicker but the Tasman Motorsport-run crew was still able to celebrate its best day of the year to date.

"We are so fired up, it's been a sensational day," Richards said. "The Sprint Gas Commodore feels amazing; it is so good, easy to drive and definitely the highlight of the year. It's well balanced and fast. It actually encourages you to go faster.

"When I didn't have to lift the foot going over the grate I knew we would be fast. When you push the metal to the floor, the car allows you to do it. It doesn't step out, it keeps powering around the track. Murph and I can push the car and it responds. I'm loving this, Murph is loving this, we're absolutely pumped."

Defending race winners Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes, seeking to make it three-in-a-row at Bathurst, had a quiet session, turning only eighth laps, but that was good enough to place the #888 Vodafone Falcon third on the timesheets.

Like Sprint Gas, the Vodafone squad elected to run early in the session in case rain arrived, but Whincup said the team was well placed for the top-ten shootout, despite not being fastest.

"We thought it was going to rain today so chose to get out early and set some times before the track started to deteriorate," he said. "The rain didn't eventuate but we certainly weren't disadvantaged at all and ended up doing less than half the laps of some other teams.

"If we knew the conditions were going to be fine we would have put on another set of tyres and kept pushing, but third place today, and third-last on the Shootout list tomorrow is still a great spot to be in."

James Courtney was fourth quickest for the SBR in the JELD-WEN Falcon, admitting that 'all indicators point to a crazy race pace', while Garth Tander put Toll HRT fifth on the timesheets as he and Mark Skaife seek to add a Bathurst success to their win at Phillip Island in the opening enduro of the year.

Tander had earlier set the quickest time of the weekend to date in practice, with only the third sub 2min 07secs lap of the mountain by a V8 Supercar.

"We proved our Toll Holden Racing Team Commodore was good, but the '2.06' was in this morning's conditions," he said. "It wasn't quite right this afternoon and the shootout's in the afternoon so we need to go through what we changed between sessions, check it all and make sure we're headed in the right direction. But the shootout's tomorrow and we're in the mix."

Rick Kelly was sixth for the HSV Dealer Team ahead of Will Davison's Jim Beam Racing Falcon, while Paul Dumbrell, Fabian Coulthard and Russell Ingall completed those drivers to make it through to Saturday's top-ten shootout.

Amongst those to miss out on the shootout was the SP Tools Falcon of Shane van Gisbergen, Jack Daniel's Racing Todd Kelly and Fujitsu Racing's Jason Bright.

Two of the drivers to hit problems in the session were Bright's team-mate Marcus Marshall and the second Vodafone Falcon in the hands of Fabrizio Giovanardi.

Marshall saw his hopes of a solid qualifying slot come to an end when he ran over a television cable that had fallen onto the circuit, with the session being stopped immediately.

It left the IRWIN Racing man with just one flying lap to make it through to the next phase of qualifying, but in the end he was only able to set the 22nd quickest time.

"What can you say," he reflected. "I had just gone past the timing split and we were on a fast one. Then I came through the Dipper and ran over the cable. I really didn't know what to think, but I was on such a good lap I charged on. Then halfway down Conrod Straight they stopped the session and I had to return to the pits.

"It was the second red flag for the session and on both occasions we were on fast laps. Nonetheless we can now get our head around the big race on Sunday. The car is very good in race conditions. We can go and do our own thing in the race and get ourselves up towards the front when it counts."

Giovanardi meanwhile suffered an accident coming across the top of the mountain to cap a challenging day for the #88 crew, with Marc Hynes having suffered a shattered windscreen after hitting a magpie; an incident he referred to as an encounter with 'the wrong type of bird'.

Giovanardi's contact with the wall has left the team with work to do overnight, with the shunt having caused significant damage to the Falcon.

"I'm unhappy with the progress today," the double BTCC champion said. "It was a frustrating day and we didn't get the track time we were chasing.

"The team has a big task ahead of it tonight to prepare the car for tomorrow, I'm aiming to get out there and work on a few things in practice to prepare us for the 1000km race."



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