Kiwi Fabian Coulthard has won the opening race at Phillip Island and taken the championship lead after another farcical round of the Supercars championship on Saturday.

Tyre failure for more than half the field and severe application of technical rules saw a host of the leading contenders handed 15 second time penalties to throw the result open to chance.

A fortnight after a dozen cars crashed on lap two and cars crossed the line under safety car control championship organisers will come under fire for a 250km contest that was more about survival than racing.

The new 2017 Dunlop tyre was put to the test at the high speed circuit, where load on the rubber is the most severe in the entire championship, and failed miserably with more than half the field suffering tyre explosions. Prodrive Racing boss Tim Edwards even suggested the race needed to be red-flagged due to safety concerns.

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A first lap incident saw half a dozen cars in the mid-pack fire off the track and a post-race investigation will ascertain any possible blame.

The Kiwi contingent started the day in the ideal spot with the Shell V-Power Fords of Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard sharing the front row and defending series champion Shane van Gisbergen starting third in his Red Bull Holden.

Coulthard was the first to run into problems when his tyre exploded just short of his first pit-stop. It appeared the misfortune would cost him any chance of over-taking van Gisbergen for the series lead.

McLaughlin and van Gisbergen avoided tyre trouble and appeared ready to battle out a win but both drivers and Ford's Mark Winterbottom were served 15 second time penalties for incorrect pit entry, throwing the race wide open. A somewhat vague warning had been issued earlier in the day but all of the leading teams were caught out with the application.

In total seven cars were hit with penalties as further video evidence came to light.

A couple of safety car interventions in the second half of the race at least eased the workload on the tyres and further issues were avoided but it did mess with the strategy of many teams.

When it all played out Coulthard managed to over-take Garry Rogers Motorsport's Garth Tander and take the win. The Red Bull Holden of Jamie Whincup was second and Tander held on for third.

Van Gisbergen ended up fourth and now finds himself 10 points behind Coulthard in the overall standings.

"Not the way we wanted to win a race under the safety car," Coulthard said.

"We went through our fair share of misfortunes but we had a good car and a fast car."

Whincup admitted he didn't have the pace to match it with the top cars but was happy to avoid drama and secure a podium finish.

He thought the tyre issue was more about drivers and teams pushing the boundaries rather than a malfunctioning Dunlop tyre.

"It isn't a Dunlop issue - everyone is pushing the limits and when you push the limits you sometimes step over them."

A second 250km race will take place Sunday with all eyes on how teams manage to deal with the tyre issue.