Mark Winterbottom says qualifying for this weekend’s Ipswich 400 is crucial given there aren’t as many passing opportunities at the Queensland circuit.

Mark Winterbottom says he’ll struggle to keep hold of his V8 Supercars championship lead if he can’t put in a good qualifying display at the Ipswich 400.

The Ford driver, who heads into the eighth round of the season with a 96-point advantage over defending champion Jamie Whincup, is yet to snare a pole position in 2014.

While Winterbottom’s race pace hasn’t been an issue – claiming four wins amongst his 10 podium finishes – he’s only started two races from the front row of a grid this year.

In fact, Ford Performance Racing’s wait for a pole position stretches back 24 races to the Phillip Island event last year.

This year alone, Whincup has six poles and at the tight 3.12km Queensland Raceway circuit, Winterbottom knows track position is everything, particularly in Saturday’s pair of 33-lap races.

“I have to qualify well. A tenth of a second can be 10 to 15 spots here,” Winterbottom said.

“If you’re not in the top five here I think you’re going to struggle to win the race because it takes you 20 laps to pass one person.

“You’re soon out of laps.”

Winterbottom was quicker than his main rival in Friday’s practice dominated by the sport’s generation next.

He clocked the day’s sixth fastest time with Whincup (8th) marginally in arrears.

Volvo’s Scott McLaughlin was fastest, pipping Winterbottom’s young teammate Chaz Mostert with a one minute and 09.7256 second lap.

Holden’s Nick Percat completed a trifecta of young guns in the day’s top three, the 25-year-old coming in ahead of Shane van Gisbergen.

Mostert, a race winner at Ipswich last year, said he hoped his speed showed FPR would be able to deliver in Saturday’s two crucial qualifying runs.

“I guess we’ll find out in the morning,” Mostert said.

“At the moment the practice session was pretty good. You don’t know what everyone is doing fuel-wise and tyre-wise … it all comes down to tomorrow.”

Saturday’s all-important qualifying starts on Saturday at 11.25am with the first of two 100km races to get underway at 2.25pm.