The DJR Team Penske driver ran second-last in the Top 15 Shootout, by which point Jamie Whincup had already set a formidable benchmark with a 1m06.991s.
However, despite suffering from an arm cramp during his lap, McLaughlin was able to best Whincup’s effort by just over a tenth of a second.
Q2 pacesetter Shane van Gisbergen was then unable to go close to McLaughlin’s time, having come into the single-lap dash without a set of green tyres.
“It’s just a little bit of a cramp on the inside, I’ll just have a few more waters and I’ll be right.” McLaughlin said of his arm issue.
“Jamie did a great lap there. I thought if we could get a 6.8s we’d put a bit of pressure on Shane. He obviously used a couple of sets of tyres to get in the Shootout.
“We’re in a good spot, I’m really happy.”
Whincup finished the Shootout second, a gain of five spots compared to Q2, followed by Fabian Coulthard, Mark Winterbottom and Cam Waters.
Erebus pair Anton De Pasquale and David Reynolds qualified sixth and seventh, the latter running wide at the final corner on his lap, while James Courtney recovered nicely from his Practice 2 crash to qualify eighth.
Van Gisbergen slipped back to ninth ahead of Scott Pye, Todd Hazelwood, Nick Percat, Andre Heimgartner, Rick Kelly and Jack Le Brocq.
Having been quick in both practice…