Scott McLaughlin took another big step towards a third straight Supercars title with victory in a tense opening race at the OTR SuperSprint at The Bend.
The Shell Ford driver fended off Shane van Gisbergen in the closing stages of the 31-lap sprint, taking the flag 0.6 seconds clear.
With Jamie Whincup managing just 10th from his lowly 14th-place grid slot, McLaughlin now leads the standings by 263 points.
McLaughlin can secure the title tomorrow and avoid a final round showdown at Bathurst if he ends the day 300 points clear of Whincup.
Cameron Waters completed the podium in third, having got the better of teammate Jack Le Brocq.
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After an aborted start that reduced the race duration by one lap, McLaughlin led away from pole, while fellow front-row man Waters lost out to a fast-starting Le Brocq and van Gisbergen.
They remained in that order until the pitstops – Le Brocq running 0.7s behind McLaughlin when he dived in on lap six.
The Shell team covered that move a lap later, pitting McLaughlin and putting the #17 Ford back on track with an extended advantage.
Waters went five laps longer and rejoined on the tail of his teammate, while van Gisbergen pressed on until lap 14, emerging second – three seconds down on McLaughlin.
With eight-lap fresher tyres, van Gisbergen gradually reduced the gap, closing to within 0.3s with six laps remaining, but could not make a move in the wake of the Mustang.
“Shane was coming at me pretty hard there,” said McLaughlin.
“I tried to leave a little bit in the bank when he was coming at me to charge on when he really got to me and try to get his tyres hot in the dirty air.
“That plan worked for me, the pit stop from the guys was fantastic, really proud of everyone at Shell V-Power Racing.”
Added van Gisbergen: “It was a pretty good race. Thanks to the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, good car, ran a bit long, did rears and got caught Scotty. He was just too good.
“Maybe if we did a side [changed tyres down one side] it would have had a bit more front grip, but a bit of aero wash and he was placing the car perfectly.
“I couldn’t even get close enough for a lunge.”
Waters overtook Le Brocq with a clean move at Turn 11 on lap 16 to secure the final podium spot, but was over 11s adrift of the leader at the finish.
“I just got a shocking start,” lamented Waters. “The race car was pretty solid, probably had a similar pace to the other boys, just lost a bit of track position.”
Le Brocq had lost valuable seconds following his pit stop when his car momentarily slowed with a suspected airbox fire.
Anton De Pasquale continued his strong form from last weekend by turning sixth on the grid into fifth, ahead of Nick Percat, James Courtney and Mark Winterbottom.
From 14th on the grid, Whincup ran 11th early in the first stint, picking up places as those ahead pitted before making his own stop on lap 18.
He rejoined on the tail of Coulthard in 10th and spent the rest of the race sandwiched between the Shell Ford and the pursuing Chaz Mostert.
David Reynolds salvaged 16th from last on the grid, having been disqualified from qualifying after the Penrite Racing team breached parc ferme regulations.
Two more 32-lap races will complete the OTR SuperSprint on Sunday.
This story originally appeared on Supercars.com and is reproduced with permission.