A year ago it would not be unfair to say that Lee Holdsworth was a far from happy man after qualifying for the Bathurst 1000. The veteran driver clearly struggled in the wet timed session and would start the 2019 ‘Great Race’ from 19th grid position. He went on to finish the race 10 places better than that, but some were suggesting that Holdsworth’s best years may have been behind him.
The 15-year Supercars driver silenced his critics on Friday. He timed his fast laps to perfection and at the end of the 45-minute qualifying session, which was interrupted by a red flag and ended early by light rain, Holdsworth was on top of the 25-car grid.
It was not by much. His Tickford Racing/Truck Assist Ford Mustang’s time of 2m04.0243s was a mere 0.0108s clear of Shane van Gisbergen in the Red Bull/Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore — a distance of less than two feet over the 3.861-mile Mount Panorama circuit.
“We’ve still got the Shootout obviously tomorrow, but this is my first time with a provisional pole at Bathurst,” said a delighted Holdsworth, who will share his car Sunday with former rival and close friend Michael Caruso.
“I’m just stoked for Truck Assist Racing, Tickford Racing, Sammy [Scaffidi, his race engineer] has done an awesome job, my little mate ‘Caruse’ has been so good to me — I’m just enjoying myself.
“It takes a bit of confidence and sometimes that confidence takes a while to build back up, but it’s certainly there now.”
There appears to be little to choose between the leading Fords and Holdens, while van Gisbergen may be looking for an edge in the race in the form of his co-driver Garth Tander, the three-time race winner who is making his 23rd start in the event. Van Gisbergen also rued missing out on his final run because of the rain shower.
“Our car is getting better and better,” he said. “We were a little bit heavy [on fuel], that’s why we were doing those laps to burn fuel and it would have been interesting to see that last run.”
Right behind van Gisbergen was archrival Scott McLaughlin, who has already locked up his third straight Supercars title. The New Zealander, who next weekend will make his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg, had a fast lap negated by the red flag, but he came back to take third in the DJR Team Penske/Shell V-power Ford Mustang.
McLaughlin, who won the 2019 race in controversial circumstances, will share his seat Sunday with a new co-driver, Tim Slade. The top four cars on the grid are covered by less than one tenth of a second.
Right behind was the man who many expected to challenge McLaughlin for pole, Tickford’s Cameron Waters. Fresh from a win at The Bend circuit, the youngster was less than a tenth from pole, and also missed on on what may have been a faster final run. Waters will share his Monster Energy Mustang with two-time race winner Will Davison.
Jamie Whincup was fifth fastest, the four-time race winner just holding off McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard. Whincup will share his Holden Commodore with seven-time race winner Craig Lowndes, while Coulthard has his regular co-driver Tony D’Alberto in place.
Seventh fastest was the Erebus Motorsport/Penrite Oils Holden of Anton De Pasquale/Brodie Kostecki, ahead of the Walkinshaw Andretti United/Appliances Online Holden of Chaz Mostert, who will team up with veteran co-driver Warren Luff.
James Courtney was ninth fastest in the Tickford Racing/Boost Mobile Ford that he will share with Bathurst rookie Broc Feeney — who will turn 18 years old on race day — while Nick Percat/Thomas Randle were 10 in the Brad Jones Racing/R&J Batteries Holden.
The top 10 grid positions will be determined by Saturday’s Top 10 Shootout, in which the cars will run in reverse order, with Percat first out and Holdsworth last.
Just missing out on the top 10 were Bryce Fullwood in the Walkinshaw Andretti United/Middys Electrical Holden, Scott Pye in the Team18/DeWalt Tools Holden and 2017 race winner David Reynolds, who has struggled for speed in the second Erebus Motorsport/Penrite )ils Holden.
However, none of that may matter come Sunday, with moderate to heavy rain forecast for most of the day. So firm is the weather forecast that race officials have brought forward the start time by 30 minutes, meaning that the 161-lap race will now start at 11:00 a.m., Australian Eastern Summer Time.
Provisional qualifying results:
1 Lee Holdsworth (Aus), Tickford/Truck Assist Ford, 2m04.0243s
2 Shane van Gisbergen (NZ), Red Bull/HRT Holden, 2m04.0351s
3 Scott McLaughlin (NZ), DJR Penske/Shell Ford, 2m04.1035s
4 Cameron Waters (Aus), Tickford/Monster Energy Ford, 2m04.1056s
5 Jamie Whincup (Aus), Red Bull/HRT Holden, 2m04.2660s
6 Fabian Coulthard (NZ), DJR Penske/Shell Ford, 2m04.2813s
7 Anton De Pasquale, Erebus/Penrite Oils Holden, 2m04.4668s
8 Chaz Mostert (Aus), WAU/Appliances Online Holden, 2m04.4936s
9 James Courtney (Aus), Tickford/Boost Mobile Ford, 2m04.5485s
10 Nick Percat (Aus), RJJ Batteries/Brad Jones Racing Holden, 2m04.5539s