DEFENDING V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup sent a message to his challengers during practice at the Sydney 500 yesterday - catch me if you can.
The Red Bull Racing Australia driver leads the 2013 championship ahead of the final round by just 20 points from teammate Craig Lowndes, with Ford pair Mark Winterbottom (124 behind Whincup) and Will Davison (223) almost needing a miracle to claim the title.
And the man shooting for a third-straight season title recorded an electrifying time of 1min 27.70sec during the day's final session yesterday.
He bolted around the 3.42km Homebush street circuit on one set of his allocation of new tyres, smashing his right mirror housing on his way to the fastest time.
Whincup and second-placed Scott McLaughlin were the only drivers to dip into the '27s'.
"We've got good data now on what the car does on green bags," Whincup said.
Without a win yet at the Sydney circuit, Whincup knows that it will be a fierce battle to the end, with race-one qualifying, the top-10 shootout and the first of two weekend races scheduled for today.
"Coming to Sydney is a massive change," Whincup said. "It was the same thing at Phillip Island - you come from a nice flowing circuit to a crazy little street track so it was a bit of a shock to the system.
"I wasn't able to put together two laps the same. I'd do a good half a lap and then a bad second half, so I'm working on improving my driving. We also took some paint off today so hopefully that's the end of that for the rest of the weekend."
Lowndes is looking to secure his fourth V8 Supercars Championship crown, a title he last claimed in 1999.
The Queenslander is the only repeat race winner in the Sydney 500's short history, and said it was a track that generally throws a curve ball.
"I've got a good record at Olympic Park. The car is very different to what we had last year so getting the car set up to ride the kerbs is a bit of a challenge," he said. "But, all in all, I'm quite happy, and may the best man win."
Winterbottom, still chasing his first driver's championship, admitted he struggled for much of the day until getting on green tyres in the final session when he produced the third-fastest time.
The Ford man said he had a simple philosophy for today's race.
"I have just got to try and win," he said. "It's a pretty tough place to try and finish. You look back to 2010 and about 15 cars ended up in the wall. So anything can happen."
THE V8 title CONTENDERS
(left) (Holden) 2815
Craig Lowndes (right) (Holden) 2795
Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 2691
300 points available this weekend over two races.
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