Prodrive team principal Tim Edwards is confident that Mark Winterbottom will be among the front-runners in qualifying tomorrow despite failing to trouble the top 10 in practice.
The championship leader’s day began with an early scare when he spun into the tyre barriers at Turn 1, bringing his Practice 1 to a premature end.
The damage was swiftly repaired ahead of the second session, where he managed just the 19th fastest time, before completing the day with an 11th placed run.
Prodrive’s mechanics were meanwhile spurred back into action when team-mates Chris Pither and David Reynolds both found the fences in the third session.
Pither clobbered the tyre barrier through the Turn 6/7 chicane before Reynolds ran wide and sideswiped the barriers on the exit of Turn 8.
While the drama provided extra work for Prodrive ahead of the weekend’s title deciding races, Edwards was quick to shrug off the impact of the early errors.
“To be honest we could have run Frosty’s car like it was (damaged) in the next session if we needed to, we just replaced the panels and sent it back out,” he said.
“I’d rather the boys find the track limits in practice than the race. You’re always pushing the limits, so now we know where they are.”
Reynolds had set a time good enough for fourth fastest before his Practice 3 mistake, giving the team confidence in the pace of its cars.
Winterbottom did not run green tyres in Practice 3, focussing on tuning the car with used rubber before the final practice session tomorrow morning.
“We were just working through our program trying not to get too distracted with the time sheet,” explained Edwards.
“A lot of people ran tyres in that second session so we weren’t concerned with where we were.
“Even the tyres Frosty ran in that final session weren’t greens, which I think everyone in front of him ran.
“I don’t think anyone will beat Gizzy (Shane van Gisbergen) for pole, he clearly loves this track and is in a different league, but we’ll be somewhere in the mix up the front.”
Winterbottom meanwhile hopes that the fresh rubber will improve the balance of the car in qualifying.
“I’m just trying to tidy the rear up and a brand new tyre will do that,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to that but we are going to be on this tyre quality at some stage so hopefully it improves for the weekend.”
The driver had earlier dismissed his mistake in opening practice as a simple misjudgement of the grip level.
“I went a bit deep and thought I had a bit more grip than I did,” he said. “When it goes around you’re a passenger and the tyre wall comes pretty quick.”
Pither had also been fighting the rear of his Ford throughout the day, indirectly leading to his error at Turn 6.
“This track is a real challenge in the braking zones, it’s quite bumpy in spots and I’d been battling in the previous two sessions with a lot of rear locking,” he said.
“I’ve been working trying to push the brake bias forward whenever I’ve been able to and obviously I found the limit. I just pinched the inside front slightly and went into the tyre wall.”
Nissan’s James Moffat was another to fall foul of the same tyre bundle and was scathing over the design of the chicane.
“I put my hand up for the mistake but it’s completely stupid how we have the tyre bundles arranged,” he said.
“We need to come up with a better way that if you make a mistake you can get through without smashing into the tyres.”