Seven-time Supercars series champion Jamie Whincup has set the pace in opening practice for this weekend’s Gold Coast 600 as runaway championship leader Scott McLaughlin struggled.
Holden star Whincup topped the timesheets in the 30 minute session, clocking one minute, 10.60 seconds to finish just 0.23 ahead of Ford’s Chaz Mostert while Shane van Gisbergen was third fastest.
There was just one red flag when Holden young gun James Golding found the wall at turn 11 with seven minutes left in the session.
But all drivers found the tight, concrete wall lined street circuit, challenging – even Ford star McLaughlin.
In his first session since his controversial Bathurst 1000 win, McLaughlin appeared to battle to come to grips with the demanding track and at one stage swiped the wall on turn two.
He shared the wheel during the session with co-driver Alex Premat, finishing 10th fastest in the 25-strong field.
The man to catch may be Whincup but Mostert fired an ominous warning shot as he looked to seal back-to-back Gold Coast wins.
“Every time you come here the first session feels so fast, there are concrete walls whizzing past both sides of the car,” Mostert said.
“I am happy to get through practice one unscathed. We will work on the car, make it quicker.”
Van Gisbergen attacked the course after his frustrating second placing at Bathurst but almost came undone in a late practice exchange with fellow Kiwi Richie Stanaway.
“He is one of my good mates but he makes me wonder why sometimes – I went into the inside of him and he just slammed me,” van Gisbergen said.
“But the car is good and feels pretty comfortable.”
McLaughlin appears to have some work to do to secure consecutive championships on the tourist strip this weekend.
McLaughlin grabbed a 622 point championship lead after he was allowed to retain the Bathurst 1000 title following a stewards hearing into his Ford outfit DJR Team Penske’s Great Race safety car controversy.
DJR Team Penske copped a $250,000 fine and were deducted 300 championship points while McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard was relegated from sixth to last in the Bathurst results for their “go slow” safety car tactics at Mount Panorama.
McLaughlin can clinch the 2019 series in Saturday’s opening 102 lap race if he finishes in the top three and nearest championship rival van Gisbergen fails to finish – a real possibility on the concrete wall lined Gold Coast track that has no margin for error.
Two more practice sessions will be held on Friday.