TeamVodafone's Jamie Whincup stepped out of Jenson Button's Formula One car and back into his regular V8 Supercar with a familiar result at the BMC IMPCO GP V8 Supercar Challenge at Albert Park in Melbourne.

Championship leader Whincup was fastest in the 30-minute qualifying session that opened the four-day festival of racing at Albert Park, coming in ahead of Toll Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander and resurgent Kiwi Greg Murphy in the Castrol Edge Supercheap Auto Racing Commodore.

It was another red letter week for Whincup, who turned heads in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 car on Tuesday and then declared that TeamVodafone would not go easy on the opposition, event at the non-championship Australian Grand Prix weekend.

"Today was a good start to the weekend," he insisted, "We're not out here for points, but it's still important to get the results, especially in front of our Vodafone counterparts at McLaren. This is a good starting point and, hopefully, we can convert it to a front row start tomorrow as this track is notoriously hard to pass on."

The driver some believe may threaten Whincup's third straight championship title, Jim Beam Racing's James Courtney, was fourth fastest in qualifying, with another arch rival, Mark Winterbottom, only 13th, although it appeared that 'Frosty''s Orrcon Steel FPR team was experimenting before the next full round of the championship in New Zealand.

Jack Daniel's Racing brothers Todd and Rick Kelly showed they are in for business with fifth and seventh respectively, while Whincup's team-mate and crowd favourite, Craig Lowndes, was sixth.

Tander continued his incredible form from the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide almost a fortnight ago, sending a very clear message to Whincup that, despite two poor opening championship rounds in the Middle East, he would be back and on the pace everywhere.

"The car was very good in practice," the former champion reported, "We changed the car from practice to qualifying, and it wasn't exactly as we hoped, but we made a small change for the second run and the car was absolutely awesome. I didn't even get the most out of it. The track changed during that session a lot as well - it really came good at the end."

Kiwi Murphy, working up to returning to his winning best for the ITM400 in Hamilton, was a welcome returnee to the top of the timesheets after a few years in the wilderness in his new Castrol Edge Commodore.

"I'm still getting used to it," he admitted, "I didn't get enough laps at Adelaide, but today's been really good. The car has been on the money straight out of the gate and I'm happy to be sitting here - there's no doubt about that."

The Challenge continues at Albert Park tomorrow with the Top Ten Shootout and the first of three races scheduled for the weekend.



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