By his own admission, Supercars series leader Scott McLaughlin says Newcastle was “probably the lowest point of my career” 12 months ago.
But this weekend last year’s runner-up has a chance to make the same city the backdrop to his crowning championship glory.
And he took one step towards that breakthrough title on Friday, by posting the fastest practice time at the season-ending Newcastle 500.
The only other trophy contender, nearest rival Shane van Gisbergen, was seventh.
McLaughlin wasn’t reading too much into the opening day results, but was still pleased to finish on top.
“It’s one of those things where he [van Gisbergen] was fast in that second session, but it’s just what he’s doing,” McLaughlin said at Customs House on race eve.
“Whether he didn’t get the tyre on at the right time, the track lost some pace there at the end because no one went faster on the greens, including myself.
“So it’s hard to say, but any time we’re in front that’s a tick in our box.”
Following the two practice sessions, less than one second separated the entire field from first to 26th.
McLaughlin’s best effort around the 2.6 kilometre street circuit was one minute and 10.4756 seconds. Van Gisbergen went 1:10.8342.
There’s a 14-point margin between the New Zealand drivers on the overall ladder.
“I’m basically just pretending we’re on equal points, we’re both starting from zero,” McLaughlin said.
Van Gisbergen’s teammate Jamie Whincup (1:10.5626), who won an unprecedented seventh Supercars championship narrowly in front of McLaughlin on the last lap of last year’s inaugural Newcastle 500, was second fastest in Friday’s practice.
Third-placed Cameron Waters (1:10.6473) spoke about the windy conditions.
“The winds obviously had a massive factor today, I ran over two hats and a palm tree branch,” Waters said.
All three drivers dismissed concerns about the covering of recently installed light-rail tracks on Watt Street.
Retiring legend Craig Lowndes (1:10.8929) was 12th.
Qualifying and 95-lap races take place on both Saturday and Sunday.
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