Jamie Whincup has sauntered to pole position for the opening race of the NTI Townsville SuperSprint with an impressive top-ten shootout display to unseat David Reynolds and snare his 88th career pole.
Chaz Mostert was the pace setter across both pre-shootout qualifying sessions but could only muster the third quickest time in the end, sharing the second row with Cam Waters.
But the big surprise came from incumbent Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin who will start from 16th, his worst qualifying performance in three years as the Kiwi’s session was marred by a mistake at Turn 1 on his only run in Q2.
A despondent McLaughlin admitted winning the race from 16th will be incredibly unlikely, putting his streak of three consecutive victories at risk.
Mostert set a lightning last gasp lap to rocket to the head to the timesheets in Q1. The WAU Commodore was languishing in the drop zone after a lacklustre first run but turned the wick up in the final stages to comfortably top the session.
Mostert’s time usurped the early benchmark set by McLaughlin who set one flying lap in the ten-minute session which ended up good enough to finish second.
A handful of drivers opted not run in the opening stages of the session, most notably Whincup and Reynolds, the latter setting a purple middle sector on his way to the third-fastest time of the session, only 0.06s shy of McLaughlin’s banker.
Jack Le Brocq had a troubled session as he retried to the pitlane without having set a lap time. A steering knuckle failure was later determined the cause of the Tickford racer’s early exit.
Eliminated in Q1 was jack Smith, Zane Goddard, Chris Pither and the wounded Le Brocq.
Q2 saw a flurry of fastest laps set in the final moments of the session with several drivers trading time at the top of the timesheets with Mostert prevailing to hold provisional pole for the second successive session.
Both Red Bull Commodores had a more competitive showing to end up second and fourth, split by a resurgent Waters.
After his best qualifying performance of the season last weekend at Darwin, Bryce Fullwood continued his impressive run to ensconce himself inside the shootout. He was split by Penrite duo Anton De Pasquale and Reynolds.
However, the most notable omission was championship leader McLaughlin who slumped to 16th in a woeful session for the #17 Mustang. An unforced error at Turn 1 trying to be too daring on the brakes set up a poor lap for the Kiwi. The result is his worst qualifying performance since Perth 2018 where he started 19th but did go on to win the race.
Having snuck his way into the top 10 at the death, Nick Percat was the first driver to set a lap time, posting a 1.12.7756 for everyone to chase.
Fabian Coulthard was flying the flag solo for DJR Team Penske and he cruised to the top, three-tenths faster than Percat. Coulthard would end up sixth quickest after the rest of the laps played themselves out/
But the best was yet to come and Reynolds, who ran an alternative tyre strategy of used front tyres and brand-new rears, marched with composure to the head of the timing boards with an electric 1.12.1783.
Penrite stablemate De Pasquale was the next driver out, falling two-tenths shy of Reynolds with Van Gisbergen and Waters also unable to annex the Penrite Commodore with their runs.
It would take until a thundering lap by Whincup to knock Reynolds off the top of the timesheets. Purple in the final two sectors by the seven-time champion was enough to pip his rival for by 0.15s.
That left Mostert as the only driver left to challenge for pole but a messy lap meant he ended up third behind Whincup and Mostert.
Race 19 of the championship is set to get underway from 5.40 pm NZT.