Ford Performance Racing's resurgence at the pointy end of V8 Supercars racing continued at the opening gambit of the ITM400 on the streets of Hamilton yesterday.
Three of their drivers, Will Davison, Mark Winterbottom and David Reynolds, topped the practice charts at the end of the first day's hit-out.
After two rounds Davison leads the championship, Winterbottom is third and while David Reynolds may be languishing in 15th, he and his car have pace on the Frankton District streets.
Garth Tander was the first of the Holden pilots in fourth with Tony D'Alberto rounding out the top five. Defending series champion Jamie Whincup could only manage 17th quickest while his teammate Craig Lowndes was better placed in sixth.
"It's an unbelievable to start to the weekend for FPR," said Davison. "It's a testament to the team and the car that we're all quick at this stage.
"We've come a long way in the past 12 months and this place [Hamilton] wasn't the best for us last year but from the first lap on hard or soft tyres we've been really quick today."
Five drivers went under the qualifying record of Lowndes from last year. TeamVodafone will be poring over their data sheets before qualifying today as Lowndes and Whincup will want to improve today to be in a good position for the top 10 shootout.
As practice went on, the quicker drivers began to kiss the concrete wall on some of the corner exits in an effort to find that extra tenth of a second. While practice doesn't set the grid for the day's first race, it is an indicator who's got the car sorted the quickest.
Bottle-O-Racing driver David Reynolds was consistently the quickest driver during practice. He was never outside the top three in all four practice sessions and hopes to have a good weekend.
The former Porsche Carrera Cup champion was in a feisty mood when discussing his chances at the final outing of the Aussie V8 series around the Frankton District.
"The car felt good and the stars appear to be aligned," said Reynolds. "It's been a great day. I want to win races and I can't see why it can't happen this weekend."
Tander, while relatively pleased to be the fastest Holden driver, still feels there's more to come.
"It's okay to be the fastest Holden but I wanted to be the fastest of all the cars," he said.
"The cars quite good and I'm pretty happy with it. Obviously we need to find more speed relative to the FPR cars. We've still got a few things to improve but I'm pretty happy where we're at."
The Kiwis didn't fare too well on day one of the weekend.
Greg Murphy could only manage 28th fastest after clipping the inside of the wall on turn eight, firing him into the tyre barrier on the outside wall.
Fabian Coulthard was only marginally better, setting a time that saw him 26th quickest and his team have a bit of work to do overnight.
Qualifying is at 11.10 this morning with top-10 shootout at 12.20. The 59-lap race one launches into action at 3.05pm.
Tinkering vital in setting the scene for weekend of racing
To some motorsport fans, practice can be a bit of a turn-off.
For the uninitiated, it looks like a bunch of cars howling round a track, pulling into the pits for the crew to have a fiddle, and then going back out again.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, being the fastest driver in practice won't necessarily equate to being on pole, but if the team don't get the car in the right window before qualifying, they'll be chasing the right set-up all weekend.
"Most teams will have made small changes to chassis over summer and that will affect the balance of the car even at a circuit we've been to before," said David Stuart, team manager of Stone Brothers Racing and engineer of Shane van Gisbergen's car.
"Practice is hugely important for us to make sure that the changes we have made have improved the car and not set it back.
"So far the car has been better everywhere we've been this year. The balance of the car will be different to last year and this time [practice] is important to fine-tune the car. If you don't get it right in practice you'll be behind for the whole weekend."
While it's patently obvious practice is really important to get everything right for the rest of the weekend, a street circuit has its special quirks. A purpose-built race track doesn't really change from round to round, but public roads can change literally from day to day.
Council workers can retarmac a section, new road lines can be painted or the kerb profile can be reconfigured. If any one of these, or all of them, happens in the intervening months since the last race, previous engineering data can be compromised.
"The first thing we do is look at the performance from last year and the set-up of the car," said Stuart.
"As part of our normal set-up we'll do a track walk on the Thursday with the drivers to spot any changes the council may have made. For example, changes in the asphalt will change the grip characteristics of the car.
"They haven't changed too much this year at Hamilton so last year's data will be pretty relevant this year," said Stuart.
White lines, or any coloured lines for that matter, mean havoc for the drivers when it rains, especially when they're braking and pitching the car into a corner.
There's not much the engineers can do as the drivers will be moving the car all over the track trying to find that little bit of extra grip in the wet when braking heavily.
If the car then hits a road marking it's more than likely to spear straight ahead.
"We have a map that shows any new road markings and makes the driver aware of where they are so he can adjust his braking or acceleration."By Eric Thompson