Supercars Championship debutant Thomas Randle says he is “pinching myself” over finishing in the top 10 in Friday practice for the OTR SuperSprint at The Bend.
The Tickford Racing wildcard topped the Additional Driver session, against a field comprised predominantly of Pirtek Enduro Cup co-drivers, then went fourth fastest in Practice 1.
In the second practice session, which is far more fiercely contested as it sets the starting order for the following Armor All Qualifying session, Randle ended up 10th.
“It was unbelievable, (I’m) still pinching myself to get into the (top) 10, first time around,” said the 23-year-old.
“It was something in the back of my mind but knowing how tough the competition is here…
“We ran a green set of tyres in Practice 1 because we had an extra set, and we knew there’d be a fair bit of work to do because no one else ran a green set.
“In Practice 2, (with) everyone running on a green set at the end, we knew it was going to be tough but we just managed to get the lap in.
“Still a million miles away from (Scott McLaughlin, who set the pace) but really happy for all the guys.
“It’s been a great day; we were quickest in the Additional Driver session, and to end in the (top) 10 is fantastic, so straight into Q2’s… for it to come to fruition is really cool.”
Despite the performance, Randle said that there would not be a reset of his expectations, per se.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve ‘reset’, but now we’ve got some really good data, not just for myself but the other four drivers in our stable have got some really good data that I can now compare to,” he explained.
“When I’ve been racing in Super2, I’ve just been comparing against myself, so where today’s been really good is that after Practice 1, we compared with Cam (Waters), Lee (Holdsworth), Chaz (Mostert), and Will (Davison).
“I sort of picked three things after Practice 1 that I wanted to work on for the second practice, and to only be four tenths off Chaz, or something like that (Ed: seven tenths), I think three tenths off Lee, was really good.
“It’s such a long track, you’ve got 18 corners which, for me, is 18 more (potential) mistakes, so I just wanted to make sure on that lap that I didn’t have any, so I ended up happy with where we finished.”
The Dunlop Super2 Series race winner also noted that he will face several tasks in tomorrow’s races which are still foreign to him.
“We’ve still got two long races to come,” he observed.
“That’s going to be where it counts, to see how I race against the other guys.
“To be automatically in the top 16 (on the starting grid) is really good, and hopefully we can move up a few spots in Q2, but it’s just going to be a completely different ball game, this level of drivers, and we’ve got pit stops, and there’ll be so many new features for me.
“It’s going to be a lot of rapid learning across the rest of the weekend.”
Randle is one of two wildcards this weekend but the other, Jack Smith, is up to his fourth event start.
The debutant revealed that there had actually been plans to contest a Championship event earlier in the season which did not come to pass due to the time required for Tickford to prepare a fifth chassis as a Mustang.
“At the start of the year we were trying to do two wildcards, Winton or Darwin and Tailem Bend,” recalled Randle.
“Winton was just too early, there was no time, and we figured Darwin would have been tricky, again, to get the car ready for that.
“(We chose The Bend) mainly because this was a circuit that not many other drivers had much experience on, and most of them racing here just last year and the same with myself (in sports dedans).”
Randle, and the rest of the field, will next hit the track tomorrow in Practice 3 from 1000 local time/1030 AEST, with Armor All Qualifying for Race 21 on in the early afternoon.