In-form TeamVodafone reversed its great start to the V8 Supercar Championship Series on the opening day of Melbourne's non-championship event, but only by car as Craig Lowndes held off a charging Kiwi brigade in qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.

Lowndes set a V8 Supercar qualifying and practice record for the Albert Park track on his way to the front, holding off the New Zealand duo of Fabian Coulthard (Wilson Security Racing) and Team BOC's Jason Richards. Lowndes' team-mate, Jamie Whincup, went from penthouse to outhouse, however, finishing 19th after late engine dramas denied the dominant Clipsal 500 winner the chance of a late charge.

"We had our bad luck last weekend and got over it, now we just seem to have transferred that bad luck to the other side of the garage," Lowndes noted, "It's nice to bounce back from Adelaide in great shape. We didn't have the best time in Adelaide, and we've still we've got the [Top Ten] Shootout tomorrow, but it's a good start. It's a shame for Jamie because he was pretty pumped after a great practice this morning and probably thought he should have been up here."

Whincup was only able to complete one timed lap,but won't know his final grid position until after tomorrow's Top Ten Shootout as the unique format of the Sprint Gas Manufacturers' Challenge sees the Ford and Holden ranks form up line astern on opposite sides of the grid, with the highest placed driver determining which manufacturer takes which side.

"I am a bit disappointed that I didn't finish today further up the order given our practice result but, thankfully, we have had the problem at this event and not at a championship round," Whincup pointed out, "Today was still very encouraging with Craig quickest in qualifying, and hopefully he will get pole tomorrow which will see me start off grid position 15."

New Zealanders Coulthard and Richards were 'pumped' after a great day, although Coulthard was reserved about what was to come.

"I've been up here before," he said, "The Top Ten Shootout is a true test of how you are going. I'm not looking to go backwards, but there's a high possibility of it. [The rest of the field] have been around a long time and know the tricks of the trade - and I'm still learning."

Richards made the move from New Zealand-owned team Sprint Gas Racing to Team BOC this year and produced a first-up fifth place at the Clipsal 500, before backing it up today.

"It was a big call over Christmas to leave Sprint Gas and move to Team BOC," he admitted, "but we had a great weekend in Adelaide. To back it up here and be the best Holden is great. I'm confident I will be right up there. I'm still trying to impress the new boss - he gave me an 'A plus' after Clipsal and I don't even know what that is. I certainly didn't get one of those at school!

"The car has been a rocket since the first laps but, to be totally honest, we're still learning how to maximise the package. Every lap, I'm feeling more at ease behind the wheel - I ran a little wide late on my best lap and still managed third fastest, so pole is definitely within reach tomorrow in the Shootout."

Will Davison and Garth Tander ensured that both Toll HRT Commodores made it through to the Shoot-out in fourth and eighth places respectively, and there was an early boost for the new Kelly Racing team as co-owner Todd Kelly pushed the best of the Jack Daniel's Holdens into the top five, albeit not without a minor sacrifice.

"We have made a lot of progress today, especially from Clipsal, and we have learnt a hell of a lot more about the car," Kelly reported, "Unfortunately, we burnt up every set of tyres to get into the top ten due to the red flag that came out in qualifying, so it's going to be a bit difficult because I'm sure a lot of the other guys will have a brand new set of tyres. We also want to make a few more changes to the car and go probably a little bit further with those changes than we normally would just to learn more about it. We'll see how it goes."

Davison tweaked his car between practice and qualifying after finishing the earlier session only 15th fastest and was pleased with the results.

"The objective today was to make the top ten and gain more racing miles in the car - and we did that, which is very satisfying," he noted, "We didn't have a great practice session, as we were a little unsure with the tyres we were using and it was hard to compare with everyone else. But, as soon as we put new tyres on and made a few tweaks to the car, it felt comfortable again. The important thing is we have a brand new set of tyres left over for the Shootout, which I am not sure everyone else will."

Steven Johnson put one of the Jim Beam Racing Fords into sixth spot, but there was bad news for team-mate - and Adelaide frontrunner - James Courtney, who surpassed even Whincup's disappointment in 26th place. He was not alone either, for fellow Clipsal Shoot-out runner Lee Holdsworth was only four positions better off, but there was encouragement for both newcomers Team Intaracing, which took 15th with Marcus Marshall, and WOW Racing, which bounced back from the controversy of Cameron McConville's back of the grid position in Adelaide to secure 14th - even if the veteran thought his position could have been even better.

"It was a little disappointing to miss the Shootout when we certainly had the pace to be up there with Jason," he sighed, "The car was quick all day and I was confident I could post a top ten time on greens, but lost my best chance when the car understeered on cold tyres."

The Sprint Gas Challenge continues with the Top Ten Shootout on Friday afternoon, followed by the first of three races that evening.



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