Jamie Whincup narrowly edged defending Bathurst 1000 winner David Reynolds in a thrilling preliminary qualifying battle at the Mount Panorama circuit.

Whincup, who – along with co-driver Paul Dumbrell – won at the Supercars Championship’s most recent hit-out at the Sandown 500 to bring himself back into the title fight, faced off stiff competition from Reynolds as well as his championship-leading teammate Shane van Gisbergen and fellow title frontrunner Scott McLaughlin.

The afternoon’s 40-minute qualifying session proved to be an adventure into the unknown for the entire field. With all six preceding practice sessions held in either fully wet or damp conditions, the 26-car field exited pit lane and onto a completely dry track surface for the first time this weekend.

Set-up changes would prove something of a guessing game given the total lack of any prior dry-weather running, with some drivers and teams faring much better than others in a busy session where getting a clear lap would also prove a major challenge.

McLaughlin, the holder of Supercars’ outright lap record at Mount Panorama, was on the pace early and posted a 2:05.391 on his first flying lap before lowering his benchmark effort by a further six-hundredths of a second on his next tour.

Reynolds responded and after posting a purple split time through Sector 1 and a personal best sector split over the mountain section of the 6.2-kilometre circuit, he outbraked himself at the final corner and slid up the escape road.

A few minutes later and McLaughlin’s time was finally beaten with a surprise effort by James Courtney in the Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden, posting a 2:05.103. His time at the top lasted just a few seconds, with Whincup becoming the first driver to break below the 2m05s barrier, posting an eye-opening 2:04.576.

Reynolds tried to respond but fell just 0.004 seconds short in his Erebus Holden, before the impressive Courtney reclaimed top spot by lapping one-tenth quicker than Whincup, while McLaughlin knocked the six-time champion down to P3 and fell just nine-hundredths of a second short of beating Courtney’s effort.

Whincup counterattacked once more, moving back into top spot with a 2:04.302 just seconds before the session was red-flagged when Jack Le Brocq’s TEKNO Holden slapped the wall at the exit of Hell Corner.

The session resumed with less than ten minutes on the clock and track conditions continued to improve as the clock wound down. McLaughlin returned to the top of the timesheets with a 2:04.286, before Whincup once again reclaimed top spot with a 2:04.109.

Reynolds was one of the last drivers to cross the finish line and fell agonisingly short of snatching back top spot.

Points leader van Gisbergen finished fourth-fastest ahead of Courtney, while the retiring Craig Lowndes made the Top-10 Shootout in the third Holden in the Triple Eight Engineering stable ahead of Prodrive Racing’s Cameron Waters.

Nick Percat finished eighth-fastest in the lead Brad Jones Racing Holden, while the top ten was completed by rookie driver Anton De Pasquale (Erebus Motorsport Holden) and series veteran Garth Tander (GRM Holden).

Having shown strong pace in the damp practice sessions, all four factory Nissans failed to fire in qualifying. Andre Heimgartner was the best of the quartet, qualifying thirteenth-fastest.

Saturday’s track action will feature the Top-10 Shootout for pole position at 17:10 local time (GMT +10).

2018 Australian Supercars Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 – Preliminary Qualifying
Pos Driver Team / Entry Time
1. Jamie Whincup Red Bull Holden Racing Team 2:04.1093
2. David Reynolds Erebus Penrite Racing + 0.1555
3. Scott McLaughlin Shell V-Power Racing Team + 0.1769
4. Shane van Gisbergen Red Bull Holden Racing Team + 0.2725
5. James Courtney Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing + 0.3666
6. Craig Lowndes Autobarn Lowndes Racing + 0.4609
7. Cameron Waters Monster Energy Racing + 0.4701
8. Nick Percat Repco Authorised Service + 0.5288
9. Anton de Pasquale Erebus Penrite Racing + 0.5849
10. Garth Tander Wilson Security Racing + 0.7474
11. Chaz Mostert Supercheap Auto Racing + 0.8040
12. James Golding Wilson Security Racing + 0.8627
13. Andre Heimgartner Castrol / Plus Fitness + 0.9265
14. Rick Kelly Castrol Racing + 0.9552
15. Fabian Coulthard Shell V-Power Racing Team + 1.0696
16. Michael Caruso Industrial Athlete Racing + 1.2102
17. Richie Stanaway RABBLE.club Racing + 1.3514
18. Scott Pye Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing + 1.3562
19. Mark Winterbottom The Bottle-O Racing Team + 1.4013
20. Tim Slade Freightliner Racing + 1.4563
21. Lee Holdsworth Preston Hire Racing + 1.5982
22. Tim Blanchard Team CoolDrive + 1.7340
23. Todd Hazelwood Bigmate Racing + 1.9283
24. Will Davison Milwaukee Racing + 1.9336
25. Jack Le Brocq Tekno Autosport + 2.0232
26. Simona de Silvestro Team Harvey Norman + 2.3281

Image via Red Bull Holden Racing Team

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Geoff Burke

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