Mark Winterbottom will start from pole position as he faces his most important test of the V8 Supercars season on Phillip Island.
Reigning series champion Jamie Whincup has declared Sunday’s race the biggest of the year, with Winterbottom facing a steely challenge to his series lead from Craig Lowndes.
Winterbottom has led the championship for months but has seen his once imperious lead eroded to just 209 points.
The pair will start from the front row of the grid in the 200km race, which begins at 2:10pm AEDT.
Winterbottom can win the title should he finish in the top seven, ahead of David Reynolds, and Lowndes fails to finish.
The more likely scenario is that the title race continues on to the season-ending meet in Sydney next month.
Drivers enjoyed cool and still conditions on Phillip Island during qualifying, setting the stage for a strategic battle at the coastal circuit.
Lowndes has set himself a goal of shaving at least 30 points off Winterbottom’s lead before the conclusion to the series in Sydney next month.
“If we get it down to something like 150 to 170 points I think we will go to the final round with a real shot at the title,” he told the V8 Supercars website.
In a decade in the sport, Winterbottom has never won the title while Lowndes’ last title came in 1999.
David Reynolds’ unlikely challenge fell away on Saturday when he was nudged off the track by rival Shane Van Gisbergen.
The Ford man fumed at the high-speed incident, which caused him to finish last in Saturday’s first sprint race.
He declared Van Gisbergen as “dead to me”, with the Kiwi driver receiving a 25-point penalty for his actions.
Reynolds stands 277 points behind leader Winterbottom and must close that gap if he is to have a realistic chance of pinching an unlikely title.