Mark Winterbottom has one hand on the V8 Supercars trophy after qualifying high on the grid for the opening races of the season-ending Sydney 500, as disaster struck his championship rival Craig Lowndes.
The Ford superstar secured pole position for Saturday’s first 37-lap sprint and fourth for the second with blistering laps at the Homebush street circuit.
Lowndes, meanwhile, put his Holden into the wall on his final lap of the first session – relegating him to last.
He managed to qualify in ninth for the second race.
Just 179 points separate the pair on the drivers’ standings.
Winterbottom needs to finish 14th or better in each of the weekend’s three races to claim the 2015 title – his first since debuting full-time in 2004.
But a victory and poor result for Lowndes could win him the championship before Sunday’s season finale.
“I’m pumped, that’s awesome,” said Winterbottom after his pole position win.
“The car yesterday was not that flash, but it was really good then.
“We’re in the right position to have a go. Game on.”
The man known as `Frosty’ had a troublesome first day of the round, failing to finish inside the top 10 in any of Friday’s three practice sessions.
But he bounced back with a blistering lap in the final warm-up before qualifying to top the timesheets.
The ever-smiling Lowndes admitted it was his own fault for crashing in the first qualifying session, but that was the price you pay for on a tight track like Sydney Olympic Park.
“This place is a high-risk reward, and we all see what happens when you try to push the limits,” he said.
“Yeah, disappointing, but we had a much better run in the second one so we’ll see where we end up.”
Holden’s Shane van Gisbergen qualified second, ahead of fellow Commodore drivers James Courtney, Jason Bright, Jamie Whincup and Tim Slade for the first race.
Six-time champion Whincup – out of title contention this year – claimed pole position for race two, ahead of Winterbottom’s Prodrive Racing Australia stablemate David Reynolds and van Gisbergen.
The first race starts at 2.15pm (AEDT).
TOP FIVE QUALIFIERS:
1. Mark Winterbottom (Ford)
2. Shane van Gisbergen (Holden)
3. James Courtney (Holden)
4. Jason Bright (Holden)
5. Tim Slade (Holden)
1. Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2. David Reynolds (Ford)
3. Shane van Gisbergen (Holden)
4. Mark Winterbottom (Ford)
5. James Courtney (Holden)