Craig Lowndes starts his final Watpac Townsville 400 in North Queensland tomorrow in the mix after contrasting practice day at Reid Park.
The Supercars great announced his retirement from fulltime racing, and his last as a driver in Townsville, with mixed results of a third in the first session and fifteenth in the second.
Jamie Whincup, who has won more races in Townsville than anyone, set the benchmark in practice in the quest for a tenth win on the tenth anniversary of the event.
He had a comfortable margin ahead of Red Bull Holden Racing Team teammate Shane van Gisbergen. Championship leader Scott McLaughlin was third on the day.
Whincup is the undisputed king of Townsville with his nine wins and is mounting a brave comeback in the Championship, albeit from a long way back.
“We are on our program which is nice. Everyone will take a step up tomorrow. It puts a smile on my dial when the car is good to drive," Whincup said.
“Every year the track changes. That’s motorsport, it’s all part of the game. Good today, hopefully good tomorrow. The ZB has got massive potential, we just haven’t done it justice in the last four or five months. Once we can extract it we are all good."
Van Gisbergen pointed out qualifying as his big achilles heel this year, despite still being second in the Championship behind fellow Kiwi McLaughlin.
“Qualifying is our big test," he said. “We are always fast in practice and race but qualifying we can’t make the tyre work for us."
In-form Nissan Motorsport pilot Rick Kelly continued his pace as the fastest Altima in seventh behind Nick Percat, Will Davison and David Reynolds.
Mark Winterbottom was the best of the four Tickford Racing drivers in 11th, with Cameron Waters 19th, Chaz Mostert 20th and Richie Stanaway 26th.
Lowndes, starting his full-time farewell tour in Townsville, was 15th fastest, with a 1:13.0908s.
The Watpac Townsville 400 continues on Saturday, with ARMOR ALL Qualifying at 11:55am and the weekend’s opening 70-lap race at 4:05pm.