Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen knows today's ITM Auckland SuperSprint practice is as important for his title hopes as the next two days when championship points are up for grabs.

The 27-year-old Red Bull Racing driver has a 148-point championship lead over teammate Jamie Whincup as the penultimate round begins at Pukekohe Park Raceway today.

Because the South Auckland track is notoriously hard to pass at and coupled with the nature of the weekend's racing format qualifying will take on more importance than normal this weekend.

Friday practice becomes extremely important as teams and drivers try to find the perfect balance to give them an edge in qualifying.


Indifferent weather at Pukekohe on Friday will further complicate matter.

The championship leader can take a major step towards a maiden title if he can get it right in practice.

"Qualifying is always important - it makes your day so much easier if you are on the front row or two," van Gisbergen tells

"We'll do a good job and hopefully be on top."

With four shorter 100km races spread across the weekend there is less scope for strategy to become a big factor. With no pit stops or significant tyre strategy at play those that qualify well should be able to stay somewhere near the front of the field.

Van Gisbergen says the format and Pukekohe's unique layout will make for short, sharp races.

"I do enjoy the long races but the short ones will be a good change," he says.

"It is a good track, very bumpy and a lot of character. I like racing there.

"It is a good challenge to set up a car that works over the bumps and through the sweepers as well."

Friday's schedule sees the Supercars out on track for three half hour practice sessions. Cars will undertake a short qualifying session and two sprint races on both Saturday and Sunday.