Ford Draws First Blood In Battle Of New WRC Cars

In a dramatic session when Garth Tander came back from the dead to finish eighth after slamming into a wall, Team Vodafone ace Whincup tamed the ferocious 6.2km track to announce himself as the man to beat in Sunday's 1000km war of attrition.

With tyres proving a handful and hot weather killing predictions of a new lap record, Whincup clocked a 2min 07.71sec lap to edge out shock top-runner Fabian Coulthard (Holden) and Ford heavyweight Mark Winterbottom.

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With Mt Panorama providing a preview of the carnage which is sure to come, several cars skipped along the dirt and grass while Tander smashed into a wall at more than 150km/h after his steering locked.

There were no such concerns for Whincup, with the three-time Bathurst winner continuing on from practice with a near flawless session and taking top billing in the top-10 shootout which will determine the front of the grid.

"It wasn't as quick as yesterday because of the heat but I don't think slow is the right word," Whincup said. "You are still going pretty quick around here to clock a 2:07. We have had a consistent run and we have made the most out of things. But at the end of the day, with the shootout still to come, and a 161-lap race, the job is far from done. This pretty much means nothing."

Reigning champion Tander provided the scare of the day when he slammed into a tyre wall in an accident that had many fearing his bid to win back-to-back Bathurst titles was over.

"I had a lock-up going into turn two," Tander said. "I had new rotors on the front and the inconsistency we have had from set to set has been average. It grabbed the front tyre and it would not unlock. I went into the apex and it wouldn't unlock and I was just a passenger as it went into the wall. I managed to get reverse and took myself back to the pits and the boys did some pretty crude panelbeating."

Garth Tander drives his battered Holden Racing Team car in Preliminary qualifing after he ran into a wall. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Tander all taped upSource:The Daily Telegraph

In a minor miracle, the HRT crew were able to piece his car back together with the help of reams of red tape, and gave Tander a car capable of making it into the shootout.

"They did a great job," Tander said. "We did a couple of runs making sure nothing was rubbing then put some new tyres on and punched out the time."

While Tander was brave, Whincup was brilliant. He fended off Ford Performance Racing but said he did not deserve to be favourite, claiming his teammate Lowndes and Tander were the men to beat.

>Team profiles: The dynamic duos

"I think you just have to go on the past results," he said. "At the end of the day Lowndes and (Warren) Luff have been very strong here. As I have had said during the week, Tander has won two out of three here so you have to give respect to those guys and say they are favourites."

Leading the fight for Ford, Blue Oval warrior Winterbottom's last ditch blast was enough to secure third spot in the session.

"The plan wasn't to leave it that late," Winterbottom said.

"But we had to make a few adjustments and that is the way it worked out.

"We were struggling to get a lap together and the car didn't come to us until the very end.

"I think we have a very good race car but the one-lap speed isn't quite there.

"We have another session to work that out before the shootout and hopefully we can find a little more."

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