Outgoing V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup has vowed to help team-mate Craig Lowndes come from behind and win the title but will not overplay his hand.
Whincup enters the Coates Hire Sydney 500 weekend as a bit player in the championship scenario for the first time in the history of the Sydney event.
Red Bull Holden driver Lowndes has made decent inroads into Prodrive racer Mark Winterbottom’s points lead in recent meetings but remains an outsider to topple the Ford pilot.
“It is super relaxing when you are not worrying about a championship,” Whincup said after setting the third fastest time in Friday practice.
“You are just checking it out, enjoying the event and having a good time.
“I have an idea what Mark and Craig are going through, every clown wanting to talk to them for five minutes during the day.
“I’ll be looking after Lowndsey where I can. But there is nothing you can do.
“I’m not sure whether I can do anything to anyone else including car #5.
“We will race hard but certainly tomorrow I won’t be holding Craig up in any way.”
Whincup, who stressed that he was not comfortable talking about what Winterbottom would be feeling heading into a weekend where he stands to win this first championship, says the PRA driver remains the firm favourite.
“It’s a bit weird talking to Mark. He’s doing his thing,” Whincup said.
“Obviously there is pressure on both him and Craig (Lowndes).
“He’s (Winterbottom) certainly in the box seat to come out with #1.”
Whincup’s day wasn’t all smooth sailing, with a number of touches against the concrete walls resulting in some precautionary checks in the garage.
“We couldn’t keep off the concrete to be honest,” he said.
“I smacked it a few times, but we’ve been using pretty old practice tyres.
“We’ve definitely used up all our good tyres over the season and we’re using whatever we’ve got left.
“With me smacking the walls it made the job for the mechanics harder than it needed to be.
“In between all that we made some good inroads.
“We put some better tyres on at the end of practice three and the car showed it was somewhere there or thereabouts so I’m pretty happy.”
Lowndes meanwhile ended the day eighth fastest, only marginally ahead of Winterbottom despite being among those to run new tyres.
“The track was quite dirty to begin with and is now beginning to rubber-in,” he noted.
“The car is responding to that and I think today we made valuable adjustments and changes to the car.
“At the end of the day I’m happy and we’re sort of where we thought we would be. Obviously we’ve got to keep working at it and tomorrow’s a new day where I hope we’ll be right up there.”