Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup have conitnued their year-long battle for qualifying supremacy by claiming a pole position apiece for Saturday’s two Sprint Races at the Phillip Island 400.

McLaughlin left it until his final lap to deny Red Bull duo Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup a front-row lockout for the opening race, clocking a 1:31.394 to pip Lowndes by just 0.086 seconds. It was the Volvo driver’s ninth pole position of the season, temporarily drawing him clear of Whincup until the second ten-minute qualifying session.

Ford Performance Racing and Nissan Motorsport claimed the next four grid positions, with Mark Winterbottom claiming fourth place from Michael Caruso, Chaz Mostert and Rick Kelly.

The opening qualifying session was marred by a collision between McLaughlin’s fellow Kiwis, Shane van Gisbergen and Fabian Coulthard. Van Gisbergen was trying to gain better track position and attempted to overtake all three Brad Jones Racing Holdens around the outside of Turn 1 as the cars left pit lane.

Coulthard, however, was trying to warm his tyres and swerved into van Gisbergen’s path; the former suffered damaged left-front suspension while the latter was sent spinning across the track. While Coulthard took no further part in either session, van Gisbergen managed to get his repaired TEKNO Holden out for a brief sighting lap at the end of the second qualifying session. The result is a major blow for van Gisbergen in his quest to snatch the runner-up position in the Drivers’ Championship standings.

The second session saw the Red Bull runners leave their sole on-track runs until late in the session, while championship outsider Mark Winterbottom temporarily headed the order in his FPR Falcon across his two timed runs.

With fifteen seconds to go, Whincup moved to the front with a 1:31.058. Winterbottom used his next lap to improve on his own time, but it wasn’t enough to reclaim pole position from the Red Bull Holden driver, who will almost certainly go on to claim his sixth V8 Supercars Championship title and his fourth on the trot.

Lowndes finished the session third-fastest ahead of the ever-improving Nissans of Todd Kelly, Michael Caruso and Rick Kelly.

Race 33 pole-winner McLaughlin ended up ninth-fastest after ruining his own potential pole-grabbing lap with a lock-up at Honda corner.

Image via V8 Supercars Championship Media

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Geoff Burke

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