THE welcome mat may have been thrown out for Mercedes and Nissan but this year's Bathurst 1000 again looks set to add another chapter to the great Holden-Ford rivalry judging by yesterday's qualifying.
Defending V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup, of Holden, defied damage caused by clipping the wall to claim provisional pole (two minutes, 8.00 seconds) ahead of Ford threat Mark Winterbottom (2:08.06) and Holden's Jason Bright (2:08.22).
The top 10 grid spots for tomorrow's Great Race will be determined from 5pm today.
Mount Panorama fans have embraced Mercedes - back for the first time since 1994 - and Nissan, not sighted since claiming back-to-back wins in 1992, this week.
But it seems they won't have much to cheer about after Lee Holdsworth (12th) was Mercedes' leading driver at qualifying while Nissan's four-car charge was led by Michael Caruso (17th).
Rather than toast Mercedes' success, fans were drowning their sorrows after lead driver Tim Slade did not even appear in qualifying after a horror practice crash on Thursday.
Ford's Chaz Mostert was another frustrated observer after ricocheting off the wall twice during final practice yesterday.
Both are hopeful of lining up for tomorrow's Great Race.
In contrast series leader Whincup was counting his lucky stars after recovering from a potentially disastrous mistake to top qualifying ahead of today's top 10 shootout.
"In qualifying you are always trying to find that extra bit and that brought out a couple of errors," four-time Bathurst champ Whincup said.
"I just rubbed the wall, nothing crazy.
"Thankfully it was not the suspension (damaged), which would have written qualifying off."
Four-time V8 champion Whincup even had the luxury of sitting out the final 10 minutes of the 40-minute qualifying session and still top the timesheets.
Mercedes and Nissan were supposed to spice up racing this season but defending Bathurst champion Whincup's ominous form has rivals fearing there will be more of the same on the mountain this weekend.
Four-time Bathurst winner Whincup is enjoying a resurgence after snapping a horror run of one win in 10 starts with victory at the traditional Great Race warm-up, the recent Sandown 500.
The Ford charge on the mountain looks set to be led by Winterbottom, who is fourth in the standings.
Second fastest in both practice sessions he contested on Thursday, the driver dubbed "Frosty" was again in red hot form during qualifying.
Despite witnessing the carnage of the last 24 hours, Winterbottom has adopted a new relaxed approach on the demanding circuit and it appears to be paying off.
"You have to enjoy Bathurst for what it is.
"We are lucky to be racing here. It is a lot of fun," he said.
Ahead of his 20th Bathurst start, five-time champion Lowndes - who trails Whincup by just 96 championship points - was sixth fastest yesterday.
Meanwhile, Whincup was not concerned with the relatively slower lap times on a hot, windy circuit yesterday, saying it may take years to come to grips with the new Car of the Future design at Bathurst.