NEWCASTLE EAST, Australia — Mark Winterbottom led the way during the opening round of qualifying for Sunday’s portion of the Coates Hire Newcastle 500, the season finale for the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
Winterbottom toured the 2.629-km course in one minute, 10.2010 seconds to lead the list of drivers who advanced into the ARMOR ALL Top 10 Shootout, set for later in the day on Sunday.
After a tough outing on Saturday where he finished 17th, Winterbottom was pleased with the progress shown by his No. 5 Bottle-O Ford team.
“It’s been a tough weekend, but when the car’s underneath you, you can do the job,” said Winterbottom. “We didn’t make massive changes overnight, but we did enough to get the car where it needs to be. I’m happy. That (kind of speed) was unexpected. Grabbing the provisional pole is a good finish to a pretty difficult year for us as a team.”
Shane van Gisbergen was second-quick and the best among the Triple Eight entries, with a time of 1:10.2046 in the No. 97 Red Bull Holden, just .0036 of a second shy of Winterbottom’s leading mark.
David Reynolds timed in third-quick for Erebus Motorsport, followed by points leader Scott McLaughlin’s Ford and the Nissan of Rick Kelly.
Six-time champion Jamie Whincup slotted in sixth overall, ahead of Chaz Mostert, Michael Caruso and Todd Kelly, who made the Shootout in his final race as a full-time Supercars driver.
The elder Kelly brother jumped into the top 10 with less than a minute remaining in the 20-minute session, posting a best lap of 1:10.5280 in his No. 7 carsales.com.au Nissan.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to try and get into the Shootout here for my last round, and we did it!” said Kelly. “It was almost bin it or get in the (top 10), to be honest. I almost lost it getting into turn 10 with a lock-up on the prior run … but they said I only needed a tenth (of a second) to get in, so I gave it everything I had.”
“I’m just glad I got it in and have to thank my guys for everything they’ve done for me and for the team over the last 20 years. It’s unreal.”
Fabian Coulthard, driving the second Shell V-Power Ford for DJR Team Penske, completed the top 10.
Will Davison was the first driver outside the top 10 and will roll off 11th (1:10.5959) in his No. 19 Woodstock Bourbon Holden for Tekno Autosports, while Cam Waters was the driver bumped out by Todd Kelly and starts 12th for Sunday’s 250 km race.
“Man, it was so close,” lamented Waters. “We were better than we were yesterday, which is a positive. I just made a little mistake at (turn) 11 and just clipped the wall. That probably cost me the Top 10 Shootout, but we can race from where we are, which is good.”
Other notables outside the top 10 included Simona de Silvestro (17th), Garth Tander (19th), Jason Bright (20th) and Craig Lowndes (22nd).
James Courtney led the session early on, but crashed at turn six five minutes into the session and lost his best lap of 1:10.7330 as a result of the incident.
Courtney’s No. 22 Mobil 1/Boost Mobile Holden sustained heavy damage as a result of the shunt.
Full first round qualifying results can be viewed on the next page…