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LOWNDES AND WHINCUP BACK ON THE PACE IN NEW ZEALAND

DAY one at Auckland’s Pukekohe Park Raceway has signaled a return to form for Red Bull Racing Australia, with both Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes atop the time sheet after a full day of practice.

With qualifying and the first of four races in New Zealand to get under way tomorrow morning, reigning series champion Whincup and three-times champion Lowndes will start among the favourites, the pair having dominated the lion share of the fourth and final session before a flying lap from Mark Winterbottom saw them finish second and fourth respectively.

Having grappled with soft tyre issues in Tasmania last week, the Red Bull VF Commodores proved a different beast on the preferred hard compound tyre – as they did in Adelaide last month. Whincup was thereabouts all day bar an extended stint in the pits in practice three but it wasn’t until the final session, on fresher tyres, that both drivers showed their hands.

“The car’s actually working really well,” said Lowndes, who ran on the same set of tyres in the first three sessions before putting on his first new set in P4.

“It was a little bit frustrating in the middle section just using one set of tyres. As the tyre was degrading, it was hard to get a read on the car and I got probably a little bit lost and frustrated just because I didn’t know where the car was at. When we put on our second set of tyres and had a good crack at it, the car balance came back to us, the car flowed really nice, we made an improvement at the second run and it became a nicer car to drive.

“We didn’t get the maximum out of the car but from where we started this morning I’m really happy and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Whincup added: “All in all we had a relatively successful day. I would have liked to have been quickest, but that’s the way it goes – just got pipped at the last minute there by a quick FPR car. But all in all this weekend’s about improving on our base and I feel like we’re well on our way to doing that. I think qualifying is going to be tough – so many cars within such a small time gap. I think we should be happy out of the day, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’re tracking better than last week though.”

Lowndes will have four chances to break the record he shares with Mark Skaife for most-ever championship wins (90) while series leader Whincup is hoping to post his first win of the 2013 season.

Qualifying will get underway at 7.35am (AEST) Saturday morning with races one and two, each 100km in distance, to be shown live on Seven Two from 11am.