Whincup tops opening Bath 1000 practice

Four-time champion Jamie Whincup has taken a positive step toward Bathurst 1000 redemption by topping opening practice at Mount Panorama on Thursday.

Whincup clocked an impressive two minutes, 05.95 seconds during the hour-long session – more than half a second ahead of Ford’s Fabian Coulthard.

Holden’s Tim Slade was third fastest.

Whincup may have tasted Bathurst success but he has not savoured victory since 2012 after being left to rue his last two Bathurst campaigns.

He last year sensationally ignored team orders to pit at Bathurst and then passed a safety car, relegating him from second to the back of the field with 20 laps left to eventually finish 18th.

And in 2014 the Holden gun also defied a team directive before running out of fuel on the 161st and final lap while leading.

“It’s great to get the weekend underway and any lap around this place is pretty cool,” said Whincup, who will team up with co-driver Paul Dumbrell at Bathurst.

“The car was there or thereabouts but it is at an extremely early stage – everyone is going to get quicker.”

There were some anxious moments in the opening practice session.

Ford’s Scott Pye somehow emerged largely unscathed from a 200kph crash at the mountain’s summit at McPhillamy Park.

“It’s a fast part of the track. I hit the wall pretty hard, fortunately I got away with some cosmetic damage,” Pye said.

Moments later the red flag did emerge when Whincup found the sand at Murray’s Corner.

Defending series champion and 2013 Bathurst champion, Ford’s Mark Winterbottom, was ninth quickest one spot ahead of series leader Shane van Gisbergen of Holden.

Defending Bathurst champion Craig Lowndes, third in the series standings this year, was surprisingly 23rd in the field.

The all-female team of Simona de Silvestro and Renee Gracie were second last in the 27-strong field, almost four seconds behind Whincup.

Only co-drivers will contest the second session from 1305 AEST with everyone taking part in the final practice from 1515 AEST.

Qualifying will be held on Friday and Saturday.

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