McLaughlin, Whincup top Supercars at GP

Supercars rivals Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup have split the opening pole positions at the Melbourne 400 at Albert Park.

The sport's best qualifiers earned their first poles of the season on Thursday at the Australian Grand Prix, where competitors will race for points for the first time in the 22-year history of the meet.

The pair were separated last year by just a handful of points, with veteran Whincup denying the young Kiwi a first title in the final moments of the season-ending race.

They were both upstaged by 2016 winner Shane Van Gisbergen in Adelaide, who won both poles and races.

In Melbourne, McLaughlin and Whincup have given themselves the best opportunity to claim race wins after pacey openings.

A hectic 10-minute qualifying format at the Grand Prix allowed drivers just a single hot lap in each session.

Both sessions produced the same top three; Triple Eight's Whincup and DJR Team Penske duo McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard.

McLaughlin produced the best time of the day - a 1:54.6016 lap - to win the opening battle, ahead of teammate Coulthard with Whincup third.

"This is the hardest qualifying of the year," McLaughlin said.

"It's one lap. You stuff it up and you're done."

For the second race in Melbourne, Whincup will be closely followed by the Penske duo, who charted second and third.

Whincup appeared surprised to earn his first pole.

"We improved the car from run one to two but got a slower time ... but a first pole for the year - happy days," he said.

"There are still a few mechanical (issues) behind the scenes which we're not happy with and we want to clean up."

In a curious battle between James Golding and Craig Lowndes - one of the least-experienced drivers against a legend of the sport - the 22-year-old will be subject to a post-race investigation.

The clash led to Lowndes finishing last in the second qualifying session.

Golding apologised for blocking the 43-year-old's run on one of his first visits to the street circuit.

"I didn't see him at all - my mistake," he said sheepishly.

There are four Supercars races at the Grand Prix, with two more qualifying sessions on Friday morning.

The first race, a 130km slog with mandatory pit stops and tyre changes, begins on Friday at 5:50pm.

The second starts on Saturday at 12:40pm - before a second late race on Saturday and a lunchtime Sunday race.

SUPERCARS QUALIFYING RESULTS FROM ALBERT PARK:

RACE 3 - FRIDAY 5:50pm - 130km:

1. Scott McLaughlin (Ford) - 1:54.6016 lap

2. Fabian Coulthard (Ford)

3. Jamie Whincup (Holden)

4. Chaz Mostert (Ford)

5. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden)

6. David Reynolds (Holden)

RACE 4 - SATURDAY 12:40pm - 70km:

1. Jamie Whincup (Holden) - 1:54.9974 lap

2. Scott McLaughlin (Ford)

3. Fabian Coulthard (Ford)

4. Cameron Waters (Ford)

5. Nick Percat (Holden)

6. Michael Caruso (Nissan)

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