Winterbottom takes provisional pole for finale
- By Mitchell Adam
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Mark Winterbottom has taken provisional pole for the final race of the Supercars season, while title rivals Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup will both contest Newcastle’s Top 10 Shootout.
Saturday Coates Hire Newcastle 500 victor McLaughlin leads Whincup by 78 points, and only needs to finish the final race of the year 11th to secure his maiden title.
Whincup led McLaughlin briefly midway through the qualifying session, Whincup sitting on top with a 1:10.4330s, just ahead of the Shell Ford.
They were displaced by Saturday protagonists David Reynolds and Shane van Gisbergen, the outgoing champion lowering the benchmark to 1:10.2046s between offs at Turn 1 and Turn 2.
Winterbottom shaded van Gisbergen with a 1:10.2010s as the final runs started with five minutes remaining, good enough to stay on top by 0.0036 seconds despite pitting with two minutes to go.
Prodrive’s Falcons have struggled so far at the new street circuit, Winterbottom finishing 17th on Saturday after pitstop problems.
Winterbottom noted that patching work on the street circuit's surface at selected corners overnight added to the challenge for qualifying.
“It’s been a tough year and a tough weekend but when you have the car underneath you, you can do the job and that’s a credit to the team,” said Winterbottom.
“We didn’t make major changes overnight but enough to get it to where it needs to be so I’m happy. It was unexpected.
“The track has changed a little bit with the resurfacing. It’s like an ice-rink when you hit it and you’ve got to try and hit it on the right angle.
“They needed to do something, but the rubber hasn’t gone down yet to grip it up.”
Van Gisbergen, Reynolds, McLaughlin, Rick Kelly and Whincup completed the top six, Whincup overshooting Turn 1 at the start of his final run.
“I just didn’t quite get the first sector right myself, I made a mistake on each run so I need to work on that and look at some footage before the Shootout,” said McLaughlin.
“The changes have definitely made the track slower, it’s quite slippery on the white bits [new patches] you can see on the track.
“You’ve got to change your line in a few places. It’s a new track, you’ve just gotten used to this place and now you’ve got to change it again, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Chaz Mostert will join Prodrive team-mate Winterbottom in the Shootout after setting the seventh-fastest time, while three Nissans and Fabian Coulthard complete the field.
Rick Kelly is joined by fellow Altima drivers Michael Caruso in eighth and Todd Kelly in ninth.
Contesting his final Supercars event, Todd Kelly is sporting a take on his 2001 Kmart Racing livery on his Altima, and jumped into the Top 10 inside the final minute.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to try and get into the Shootout for the last round,” said Kelly.
“It was a bit of a tough start to the session and it was almost bin it or get in the 10 there at the end.
“I missed Turn 10 with a lock-up on the prior run and Dilan [Talabani, engineer] said I only needed a tenth at that point to get in so I gave it everything I had.
“I’m just glad I got it in there to thank the guys for all the effort they’ve given me, not only these guys here, but over the last 20 years and since we’ve had the team.”
Kelly’s fellow retiree Jason Bright will start 20th, recovering from a moment at Turn 11 after the chequered flag with a burnout.
Will Davison and Cameron Waters were the drivers to just miss out on a Shootout berth, a clip of the wall hurting Waters.
James Courtney was atop the times after five minutes when he understeered through Turn 6, firing underneath the tyre wall on the outside.
Unable to reverse his Boost Commodore out, Courtney triggered a red flag, lost his 1:10.6516s and took no further part in the session, winding up 24th.
The final ARMOR ALL Top 10 Shootout of 2017 will be held at 12:40pm, before Race 26 of the season at 3:40pm.