If practice is anything to go by, this weekend’s V8 Supercars round in Perth could be one of upsets and comebacks.
Holden stars Fabian Coulthard and defending champion Jamie Whincup put poor last-start efforts in Auckland behind them on Friday to post the first and third quickest lap times at Barbagallo Raceway.
Less than 0.05seconds – and Ford young gun Chaz Mostert – separated the pair.
It marked an important return to form for Whincup, who sits in unfamiliar territory at sixth on the championship standings.
At 166 points adrift of leader Mark Winterbottom, it’s the furthest behind the frontrunner he has been since September 2010 – the year he lost the title to James Courtney.
It prompted Triple Eight’s technical guru Ludo Lacroix, a rare attendee to races, to make a special trip to Western Australia in a bid to get his season back on track.
Whincup finished outside the top 20 in the day’s first two sessions, but, with a fresh set of tyres, shot to the top in the final hitout.
“We were always confident we would punch up there in the end,” Whincup said.
While the 31-year-old insists it’s still too early in the season to write off his chance of record sixth crown in 2014, he’s far from happy with his position heading into Perth’s three races.
“If you think you can just cruise around in fifth and then make a bit of a strike at the end, you’re kidding yourself,” he said.
“Everyone wants to lead.
“There’s only one guy leading – that’s `Frosty’. He’s got a good 100 point lead and that’s where we want to be.
“Those fellas have done an extremely good job and we need to step up and try and get there.”
Winterbottom finished Friday’s three sessions sixth overall but, encouragingly, ahead of his nearest rival Craig Lowndes in 10th.
Lowndes, like Whincup, is looking to bounce back in Perth, having relinquished his title lead to Winterbottom in Auckland and now sits 107 points behind.
A win in either of Saturday’s two 100km sprints or Sunday’s longer 200km race would see Lowndes break Mark Skaife’s all-time record for most victories at a single track, given his previous 14 triumphs.