Australian Touring Car Championship leader Mark Skaife set the fastest time in today's qualifying session for Sunday's Bathurst 1000
The performance was a great morale booster for the works Holden Racing Team Commodore driver, but he will have to sweat it out all over again tomorrow in the Top 10 Shoot-Out which will finally settle the leading grid positions.
The constant rain in New South Wales lifted just before the 95-minute qualifying period, allowing the track to dry out during the opening 20 minutes. But the second half of the session was largely wasted as no fewer than five red-flag stoppages and some light rain at the bottom of the circuit prevented anyone from improving their times.
'Skaifey', who shares his Holden with outgoing champ Craig 'The Kid' Lowndes, was always one step ahead of the opposition, then clung on in the face of an assault from Paul 'The Rat' Radisich, whose Dick Johnson Racing Ford Falcon started the session on full wet settings.
"When we stopped we threw on some heavier rollbars," said the Kiwi after his 'Rat Attack'. "The car was like a sponge, but it doesn't matter because I only needed to get it in the top 10."
Skaife acknowledged his fortune in finding a clear lap - no small deal on a track densely populated by 55 of the monster 600bhp V8 Supercars.
"I put fresh tyres on earlier than the other guys," he said. "It was a good lap without much traffic. I was a bit lucky."
Glenn Seton was third fastest in his works Ford Tickford Racing Falcon, ahead of a fuming Russell Ingall, who was furious about the driving standards among some of the backmarkers.
"I didn't get one clear lap," railed the Perkins Holden star. "There are a lot of drivers out there from Planet Mork and there'll be a lot of dramas on Sunday. There are so many w****rs I can't believe it. I've never seen so many. They're so far off the pace it's obviously the Kellogg's cornflake licensing system they're using here."
Last year's winners Greg Murphy and Steven Richards were similarly miffed after missing the cut for the Top 10 session by a mere 0.07 seconds.
"We got nowhere close to a clear lap," said a mortified 'Murf'. "On split times on one lap we were two seconds up and then I just got held up. Steve and I are pretty disappointed, because the car was probably good for second or third."
Just holding off the Kmart Racing Holden for that final spot in the Top 10 was Steven Johnson, keeping up the family tradition started by father Dick, who himself made the shoot-out in every year but one of his 27-season career.
BTCC champ Alain Menu's co-driver Mark Larkham qualified fifth, while Holden teamsters Yvan Muller and Jason Plato lost test time in the wet practice and could manage only 19th. The Englishman had a wild moment at the Esses when he leapt over the gravel trap and somehow kept it out of the concrete wall.
1 Mark Skaife/Craig Lowndes (Holden Racing Holden Commodore) 2m11.8882s 2 Paul Radisich/Jason Bright (Dick Johnson Racing Ford Falcon) 2m12.0199s 3 Glenn Seton/Neil Crompton (Ford Tickford Racing Ford Falcon) 2m12.3622s 4 Russell Ingall/Larry Perkins (Perkins Motorsport Holden Commodore) 2m12.4849s 5 Mark Larkham/Alain Menu (Mark Larkham Motorsport Ford Falcon) 2m12.7625s 6 Jason Bargwanna/Garth Tander (Garry Rogers Holden Commodore) 2m13.1178s 7 Tony Longhurst/David Besnard (Stone Brothers Racing Ford Falcon) 2m13.3641s 8 Wayne Gardner/Neal Bates (Ford Tickford Racing Ford Falcon) 2m13.4912s 9 Todd Kelly/Nathan Pretty (Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore) 2m13.6966s 10 Steven Johnson/Cameron McLean (Dick Johnson Racing Ford Falcon) 2m13.6996s
18 Paul Morris/Matt Neal (Team Nemo Holden Commodore) 2m15.4033s 19 Jason Plato/Yvan Muller (Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore) 2m15.4351s 22 Rodney Forbes/John Cleland (Wynns Racing Holden Commodore) 2m15.5884s
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