Formula 3 Australian Drivers' Championship returnee Mat Sofi has smashed the qualifying lap record to take pole position at Eastern Creek Raceway.
The Sydneysider stole the show on Day 2 of the four-day Shannons Nationals presented by Hi-Tec Oils event, undercutting Nathan Carratti's 2008 pole time by almost a full second.
Sofi's best effort of 1:22.30s was set moments before a red flag ended the session, while John Magro (1:22.79s), points leader James Winslow (1:23.12s) and Chris Gilmour (1:23.21) rounded out the top four.
“I would never have thought we would have done anything like that kind of time,” said Sofi after the session.
“We thought it would be quick with the newer tyres and the preparation that we put in – but that is way beyond what we ever expected these cars would achieve here. It's incredible.”
Steel Guiliana and Ben Gersekowski, contenders for the Forpark Australia Scholarship, were also involved in the Quick Six session after strong efforts in qualifying.
Guiliana, however, crashed his R-Tek Dallara at Turn 8 in the final minute of the session while on a quick lap – an incident almost mirroring that experienced by team-mate Bryce Moore earlier in the day.
Qualifying for the Kumho Tyres V8 Touring Car series saw youngster Justin Garioch impress, with the Valley Longwall International backed Falcon BA pilot taking pole by a mere 0.0094s from Terry Wyhoon (Lubrimaxx Falcon BA) and Jim Pollicina (Poll Performance VY Commodore).
Points leader Scott Loadsman (Beautiful Tiles VY Commodore) was fourth ahead of Chris Smerdon (Falcon BA) and Mark Shepherd (CEG Rental Falcon BA).
It wasn't all plain sailing for the field though with Michael Hector (Carrington Equipment Group Falcon BA) and Michael Bartsch (Cavalier Homes Falcon AU) both coming to grief during the day.
Bartsch (Cavalier Homes AU Falcon) spun in practice, contacting the wall on the exit of Turn 3, before recovering to qualify eighth. Hector meanwhile had a big hit on the exit of the final turn after running inside the top ten, necessitating a visit to a local panel shop overnight to straighten two bent chassis rails.
In the Kerrick Sports Sedans the expected battle between old rivals Tony Ricciardello (Red Rooster Alfa Romeo GTV/Chev) and Darren Hossack (Auto Union Deutsche Audi A4/Chev) started from the opening session with the Audi holding station early before Ricciardello returned fire in Qualifying 1 to take pole (1:29.47s) by a mere 0.12s.
Third quickest was Fuel2Race Calibra pilot Chris Jackson, ahead of opening round surprise Scott Butler (Menai Blinds Camaro/Chev).
Reigning champion Roger Lago (Falcon Property 997) dominated qualifying for Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, while Terry Knight (Strandwood Building Solutions) was the pace-setter in the 996 Cup Class.
Lago set the outright pace early in practice and continued his fine form with pole position, posting a time over a second clear of his nearest rival Jeff Bobik (Creative Colour 997).
Behind the leading duo, John Morriss (Motorsport Leasing 997) and Jon Trende (Boston Kennedy 997) qualified on the second row of the grid, ahead of John Goodacre (Gap Solutions 996), Jan Jinadasa (JJA 997) and Phil Morriss (Morriss Racing 997).
Lago, however, was the class of the field and is confident he can remain at the front for Saturday's race.
“I went well in practice this morning and I was hoping to go slightly better on new tyres. I didn't think I'd go quite that well though,” he said
“I got quite lucky with the traffic on my pole lap; I just happened to get passed them at the right time and it all came together.
“It's good to be over a second quicker than second place so we'll go in to tomorrow full of confidence. But if it rains tomorrow everything changes.”
The talking point in the Radical Australia Cup paddock was just how close the established stars would be to the three former Formula 3 champions employed as co-drivers under the event's twin 50 minute race format.
Ben Barker (with Neale Muston), Tim Macrow (alongside reigning champion Peter Opie) and James Winslow (with former points leader Ed Singleton) battled at the front of the field in Q2, with Winslow stunning the field in his opening lap on cold tyres – eight seconds faster than the next competitor.
In the end, Winslow dominated the session in the fading light late in the day to set pole (1:28.15s), ahead of fellow Briton Barker (1:28.75s), with Macrow third (1:28.87s). Fourth was Tim Berryman (1:30.16s) who ran second in the opening session to Barker's rookie co-driver Neil Muston (1:29.8299).
It had been an interesting day for series points leader Peter Opie who qualified last in his session after hearing a loud knock in the rear of the car and pulling it up on the exit of Turn 1.
In the end the RAC team couldn't find the issue, and with Macrow well on the leaders pace in his debut run in an SR3, the issue clearly wasn't permanent, but enough to ensure that Opie will start the second race from the rear of the field.
Commodore Cup ran two practice sessions today, with Winton star Matt Hayes (San Marco Italian Restaurant) setting the fastest time in Practice 2 ahead of reigning champion Adam Beechey.
Former series winner Marcus Zukanovic (Action Racing) was the hard luck story – forced out for the day by a broken gearbox in Practice 1.
In the Saloon Car Series, South Australian Matt Lovell (Batteries Direct Falcon AU) topped the timesheets in Qualifying 1, but the margin to former champion and runaway points leader Shawn Jamieson (Bowden Homes Commodore VT) was just 0.085 seconds.
Reigning V8 Touring Car champion Tony Evangelou (salooncars.net.au Commodore VT) was third fastest. A second Saloon Car qualifying session will be held tomorrow morning.
Fans not at Eastern Creek Raceway across the weekend can follow the Shannons Nationals presented by Hi-Tec Oils action thanks to live streaming via itvlive.com.au.