Reigning V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup closed in on a record-equalling fifth title with a maiden victory in the series-closing Sydney 500 this evening.
Whincup's trouble-free completion of an otherwise dramatic the 74-lap (250km) journey round a treacherous street circuit at Olympic Park allowed him to boost his lead to 110 points over closest challenger Craig Lowndes.
A maximum of 150 points is available from tomorrow's finale so Whincup is in the enviable position of being able to coast and stay out of trouble to retain his crown.
Jonathon Webb finished second behind Whincup and Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen was provisionally third, with Race Control due to investigate two incidents the aggressive Aucklander was involved in.
A collision between Van Gisbergen and Tim Blanchard on lap 17 forced the Australian to retire; the 24-year-old then knocked compatriot Fabian Coulthard off the podium on the final lap when he nudged his fellow Aucklander into a wall.
Coulthard was on the verge of securing second place when Van Gisbergen's Holden made contact, pushing his rival's Commodore into a protective barrier.
Whincup, who held a slender 20 point advantage over Red Bull Racing teammate Lowndes, set the fastest time in practice, qualifying and then won today's top-10 shootout to secure his first ever pole position at the Sydney 500.
Earlier the Australian had the luxury of watching the end of an incident-packed qualifying session from pit lane having set what was ultimately an unbeatable time with relative ease before returning to the team garage.
Whincup claimed the shootout ahead of Ford's Mark Winterbottom - who was mathematically in contention at the green light - and Van Gisbergen.
The Kiwi was second fastest in qualifying but his Tekno Autosports Commodore dropped back in the shootout.
Van Gisbergen, who started the weekend in seventh place, two spots behind compatriot Fabian Coulthard, was his usual abrasive self.
A collision between Van Gisbergen and Blanchard's Falcon prompted an inquiry after the Australian had to retire on lap 17 after being propelled into a wall.
There was more drama on the previous lap when Winterbottom caused Lowndes, who started a lowly 10th on the grid and eventually finished 15th, to partially spin out.
Bottle-O Ford driver David Reynolds then collected Winterbottom, who battled on despite damage to his left rear wheel base until his Falcon spun and hit a wall on lap 63.
Meanwhile, Scott McLaughlin was second fastest in the final practice session but missed the shootout by one berth to be designated 11th spot on the grid - an ominous sign for the rookie.
The 20-year-old has fond memories of the circuit having wrapped up the second-tier Dunlop Series 12 months ago before getting a late call up for the Sunday race after current teammate Alexandre Premat was ruled out through illness.
However, McLaughlin will have fond memories of today's assignment: he was the first driver to drop out when his Holden Commodore conked on lap 11.
His mechanical issue prompted the first of four restarts as the tight, unforgiving layout took its toll behind Whincup.
- Fairfax Media
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