Reigning Supercars champion Jamie Whincup has upstaged this season’s title fighters to snatch pole position for the Sunday race at Pukekohe Park.
Whincup will be joined on the front row by Scott McLaughlin after pipping the Kiwi by less than two-hundredths of a second in a red-hot shootout at the New Zealand circuit.
McLaughlin’s sole rival for the 2018 championship, Shane van Gisbergen, will begin from the second row after coming third.
The two Kiwis traded blows in a dramatic Saturday race, which included a five-second penalty to van Gisbergen for hitting McLaughlin in the day’s pivotal passing move.
Van Gisbergen prevailed to narrow the championship gap to just two points but is still under threat of losing a bundle of points after an appeal from McLaughlin’s DJR Team Penske team for a wheel-spin in pit lane.
The act usually sees a drive-through penalty but van Gisbergen wasn’t penalised during the race, with officials conducting a post-race investigation that also cleared the championship hopeful.
Stewards met and decided on their appeal on Sunday morning but have yet to release their decision.
In the shootout, Whincup attacked the circuit relentlessly and was rewarded with the best time of the weekend.
The seven-time champion will lose his crown at the end of the season after losing ground in the championship race, and has pledged to drive without fear at Pukekohe.
« I’ve got nothing to lose. I had a bit of a dip then and it all paid off, » he said.
« I can have a free swing now.
« It’s so close between the top five or six, I’m glad I pushed a little bit harder and got a few hundredths (off my time). »
The pole position was Whincup’s fifth of the season and 80th of his career.
McLaughlin said he’d back himself to pip Whincup to the lead after finishing second in the shootout.
« We’re side by side … we’ve got equal chance to get to turn one first, » he said.
« Our start was good yesterday. If we can do that again, we’ll be happy. »
David Reynolds won provisional pole in qualifying on Sunday morning but could only finish fifth, behind Chaz Mostert.
The final race of the penultimate meet of the season takes place at 2.10pm (AEDT).