After a relatively quiet showing across the two practice sessions, Whincup was on the pace throughout qualifying.
He was second fastest in the Q2 session that determined the Shootout, before expertly running down a solid early benchmark from David Reynolds to seal pole in the single-lap dash.
Even better for Whincup was that McLaughlin missed the Shootout altogether, opening the door for the Triple Eight driver to make inroads on the 177-point deficit in the title race this afternoon.
"[It's] crazy how it turned around," said Whincup.
"We had a bit of a lemon in practice, and then [race engineer David] Cauchi tuned it up for quali and then another little tweak for the Shootout. The car was fantastic, I was lucky enough to get the most out of it.
"It would have been good to have the #17 in there to see how exactly how quick we were against the whole field, but all in all we're happy with the pole."
McLaughlin, meanwhile, was left to rue a mistake at Turn 2 on his crucial final run in Q2, which has left him a lowly 16th on the grid.
"I just made a mistake," said the runaway points leader.
"You get one set of tyres, one chance. Going into [Turn 2] I made a little bias change for that run, and I locked the rears and I was wide.
"In this series if you make one mistake, you're done. That's why love it."
Reynolds will start the race from second, a welcome boost after a dip in form, while former teammates Chaz Mostert and Cam Waters will share the second row.
Anton De Pasquale and Fabian Coulthard qualified fifth and sixth, while Shane van Gisbergen dumped three spots in the Shootout and slipped back to seventh.
Bryce Fullwood, James Courtney and Nick Percat rounded out the Top 10.
|1||88|| Jamie Whincup ||1'12.024|
|2||9|| David Reynolds ||1'12.178||0.153||0.153|
|3||25|| Chaz Mostert ||1'12.301||0.276||0.122|
|4||6|| Cameron Waters ||1'12.384||0.359||0.083|
|5||99|| Anton De Pasquale ||1'12.439||0.414||0.054|
|6||12|| Fabian Coulthard ||1'12.448||0.423||0.008|
|7||97|| Shane van Gisbergen ||1'12.497||0.472||0.049|
|8||2|| Bryce Fullwood ||1'12.685||0.660||0.188|
|9||44|| James Courtney ||1'12.733||0.708||0.047|
|10||8|| Nick Percat ||1'12.775||0.750||0.042|
|11||5|| Lee Holdsworth ||1'12.557||0.532|
|12||14|| Todd Hazelwood ||1'12.569||0.544||0.011|
|13||18|| Mark Winterbottom ||1'12.612||0.587||0.042|
|14||35|| Garry Jacobson ||1'12.659||0.634||0.047|
|15||20|| Scott Pye ||1'12.679||0.654||0.019|
|16||17|| Scott McLaughlin ||1'12.731||0.707||0.052|
|17||19|| Alex Davison ||1'12.733||0.709||0.001|
|18||15|| Rick Kelly ||1'12.744||0.719||0.010|
|19||7|| Andre Heimgartner ||1'12.748||0.724||0.004|
|20||3|| Macauley Jones ||1'12.944||0.919||0.195|
|21||4|| Jack Smith ||1'12.993||0.968||0.049|
|22||34|| Zane Goddard ||1'13.037||1.012||0.044|
|23||22|| Chris Pither ||1'13.112||1.087||0.074|
|24||55|| Jack Le Brocq |
|View full results|