Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen's championship rival Jamie Whincup lowered the lap record at Pukekohe Park Raceway with the fastest time in the final practice session of the ITM Auckland SuperSprint on Friday.
The Red Bull Racing Holden driver was one of 11 cars to go under the previous lap record van Gisbergen had set earlier in the day - posting a time of 1:02.12s.
Whincup trails teammate van Gisbergen by 148 points in the championship with two rounds remaining and isn't reading anything into his slight advantage on the opening day after a mixed performance that saw him have a high speed spin during the second session, where he did well to keep the car off the concrete wall.
"It was an eventful day for car #88 today," Whincup said. "I tried to write the car off early in practice 2. Somehow, with more ass than class, the thing stepped a bit right which kept me on the black stuff. For the record the black is definitely more grippy than the green, especially after it has been raining.
"We were able to recover. We did a couple of practice sessions with badly flat-spotted tyres. But then when we put a second set of our green rubber on the car was pretty good."
"The track is surprisingly quick. We didn't expect to be going this quick. You don't take anything out of the time. We are both feeling good and the cars are there or thereabouts.
"I just feel good we are in this position. It is a great position to be in. Both cars are 1-2 in the championship and we can battle it out.
"May the best man win."
The 27-year-old van Gisbergen ran near the front of the field throughout all three practice sessions Friday and was relieved to finally get into the car after a hectic build-up as he tries to become the first New Zealander since Jim Richards in 1991 to win the championship.
"Yea it is cool," van Gisbergen said. "It has been a pretty intense week with the media and that. I was pretty excited to get into the car today.
"It has been good. The car has a really nice set-up - one of the nicest I've ever driven around here.
"The track seems to be pretty grippy for everyone."
"I am just keeping the same approach as always. For me it is like every other weekend. The championship is there but my approach is the same - four good races with no mistakes is my goal."
New Zealander Fabian Coulthard was second fastest - .19s behind Whincup - while reigning series champion Mark Winterbottom was third in his Ford and van Gisbergen fourth.
Volvo's Scott McLaughlin, who had featured prominently in the earlier sessions, could only muster the 19th fastest time.
A number of cars had issues between turns two and three as gravel got swept onto the racing line but cars running wide. It badly affected the grip levels of the following cars and on a couple of occasions the red flag was brought out so that the track crew could sweep the circuit clean.
"The gravel seems pretty soft - a nice soft sand that you would see at the beach," Whincup said. "They'll have a look at it tonight and do the best they can - hopefully find something that is a little harder packed."