Craig Lowndes Motorsport Career

His Mum calls him Craig. His mates call him whatever they want. Fans call him CL, or Lowndesy. We know him as Craig Lowndes. During his racing career he would become known for not just his talent, but his ever present smile, a great sense of humour, and a deep appreciation for his followers.

In a (V8) Supercars career that started in 1996, the year of his 22nd birthday, Lowndes became a winner at Bathurst seven times, including the memorable win in 2006 where he and Jamie Whincup became the first to have their names etched on the Peter Brock Trophy. He’s a triple V8 Supercars champion, and, as of the end of 2018, no longer a full time competitor in the Supercars championship.

Born in Melbourne on June 21, 1974, Lowndes trod a path many others have followed when following a motorsport dream. Karting was the weapon of choice, and at the age of nine he was likely to be found at the Whittlesea karting circuit, some forty or so kilometres north of the Melbourne CBD.

It took less than a decade before racing success came his way. In Formula Ford Lowndes found a kindred automotive spirit, gaining valuable exposure in the Motorcraft Formula Ford “Drive To Europe” series in 1991. Other drivers that found fame in this series were Russell Ingall, Tomas Mezera, and Cameron McConville.

1993 and Lowndes wins the Formula Ford championship, propelling him into the vision of Formula Ford in Europe. The championship title eluded him, but not by much, with third being notched up.

Come 1994 and he’s in Formula Brabham, winning the Australian Silver Star. Also known as Formula Holden, the series itself was short-lived. The Brabham nomenclature was part of the series for just five years, from 1991 to 1995. V8 Supercars were coming and the bright lights beckoned.

Lowndes was added to the test team crew of the Holden Racing Team and competed, in what was meant to be a one off appearance, alongside Brad Jones for the 1994 Sandown 500. The drive was successful enough to impress team principal Jeff Grech enough to offer a seat that had become vacant to Lowndes.

The 1994 Bathurst 1000 race cemented Lowndes as part of the Australian racing landscape. Ballsy driving, a rookie error or two, and a second place in 1994 set him on the path to become a full time member of HRT, winning the championship with them in 1996. On his first full season with them, mind. It had Lowndes drive next to Greg Murphy, with the win making Lowndes the youngest driver to win “The Great Race” at the time.

Although Australian success was his, the call from his heart to return to Europe was strong. 1997 and the International Formula 3000 Championship saw Lowndes sharing team driving duties with Juan Pablo Montoya. The candle was alight but the success proved elusive for the Victorian, with just one season completed and Lowndes returning to Australia.

By this time the V8 Supercars category was established and in full flight, with Lowndes quickly returning to form on Australian circuits. The 1997 Sandown 500 was added to the trophy cabinet, with “Murf” his co-driver. The next year Lowndes and Mark Skaife co-starred throughout the year, and Lowndes took out the 1998 championship. 1999 promised a lot inside the new VT Commodore and consistent performance had Lowndes on track to win that year’s championship by the time round eight arrived.

The location? Calder Park. The result? A car written off, one of the most spectacular rollovers seen in Aussie motorsport, and one very lucky CL. Although the crash gave him just minor injuries and being forced to miss the Sandown race that year, his lead was such that the championship was yet again his.

Australia’s automotive brand rivalry was brought to the fore at the beginning of the 21st century as Lowndes went from a red lion to a blue oval on his car. Further colour changes came in the form of his AU Falcon being a combination of black, silver, and green, the latter on the headlight covers and giving the car the affectionate nickname of “the green eyed monster”.

As much a talking point the car was, it didn’t deliver for Lowndes. It wasn’t until 2003 when a move to FPR, Ford Performance Racing, that his first win with Ford and the first since 2000 came along. The tenure with FPR proved short in time, with Lowndes signing with Team Betta Electrical, or Triple Eight Racing, for 2005. This was partly spurred by a 20th place finish for the 2004 season.

Again his tilt at the championship was looking good; he’d taken the most victories, and the most pole positions, but incidents such as a wheel smashing his windscreen at the 2005 Bathurst race had him place second behind Russell Ingall. However, there was a highlight for Lowndes in the form of the Barry Sheen Medal. Voted upon by motorsport writers, former drivers, and commentators, it was a recognition of Lowndes in that he’d won without being the year’s championship winner.

Perhaps the most memorable of wins for Lowndes was at Bathurst in 2006. Just weeks after the tragic passing of his friend and mentor, one Peter Brock, Lowndes and Whincup muscled their way through for the win to finish just a half second ahead of second placed Rick Kelly. Lowndes capped off that year by winning the Barry Sheene medal for the second year running. 2006 would also see he and Whincup take the first of three Bathurst victories in a row, making them just the third pairing to do so, with Brock and Larry Perkins, and Brock with Jim Richards the others.

In a flagging of what was to come, Ford Australia cut their motorsport sponsorship. Lowndes made the move back to Holden, with whom he would become the first driver to reach 100 wins, win his fifth Barry Sheene medal, and his third most popular driver award. 2015 saw him win his sixth Bathurst 1000.

2017 would be perhaps his career lowlight, with no wins to his name. Although this spurred talk of retirement which was denied, in mid 2018 Lowndes, CL, and Craig to his mum, along with his ever present smile, announced he would retire from full time competition.

What was your favourite Lowndesy career highlight? Head on over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comment section below this blog! 

2017 Motorsport Year in Review

2017 has been a year to remember in motorsports worldwide, with champions crowned, rising stars established and the rest going back to the drawing board hoping for a more successful 2018. At Rare Spares we’ve been glued to our TV sets throughout the year keeping track of all the major forms of racing around the globe. From TCM to Formula 1, in this article we’ll take a quick look at the categories that caught our eyes in 2017.

Touring Car Masters

Touring Car Masters produced another classic racing season as Steve Johnson stormed his way through the second half of the season to take out the Pro class. John Bowe and Adam Bressington rounded out the podium, while a huge crash at Winton captured headlines when a no less than 12 cars were caught up in a pile up at the second corner. The TCM category is going from strength to strength attracting a number of ex pro’s providing the ultimate challenge to the amateur participants.

Supercars Australia Championship

What a season for Supercars, Jamie Whincup took the title for the seventh time, with the fight between himself and Scott McLaughlin coming down to the very last lap of the season. The eventual margin of victory was 21 points after McLaughlin was penalised 25 seconds for squeezing a hard charging Craig Lowndes into the wall on the last lap of the season. David Reynolds and Luke Youlden were popular Bathurst 1000 winners while Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen took out the Enduro Cup. The category’s first female driver Simona Di Silvestro finished in 24th place, but produced a few moments that suggest 2018 could be an exciting year for the Swiss native.

Bathurst 12 Hour

Taking place way back in February, the Bathurst 12 hour was won by Marinello Racing with Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup and Toni Vilander behind the wheel. Shane Van Gisbergen and his Scott Taylor Motorsports teammates put up an incredible fight before SVG put the incredible AMG into the wall while trying to chase down his Red Bull Racing teammate Jamie Whincup. The 2018 edition is fast approaching, and catching our eyes is the inclusion of a classic car event at this year’s 12 hour. Group S cars will be taking to the grid, with everything from Austin Healy’s, MG’s and Porsche’s taking part in a support race.

Formula 1

British superstar Lewis Hamilton claimed his fourth World Championship and Mercedes claimed their fourth constructer’s championship in a row. Ferrari regained some level of form in 2017 as Sebastian Vettel held the points lead for much of the first half of the season. Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo was left frustrated due to the lack of pace and reliability in Red Bull’s 2017 power units, meaning only one win was recorded for the popular West Australian.

NASCAR & IndyCar

Martin Truex Jnr took out the premier class of NASCAR in 2017, winning the final event in Miami to round out the ‘playoff’ series with a lead of 5 points over Kyle Busch. IndyCar headlines were dominated by Fernando Alonso in 2017 as he began his quest to conquer motorsports ‘Triple Crown’ (Monaco GP, Indy 500 & Le Mans). Alonso impressed in his first IndyCar outing at the Indy 500 and even led the prestigious race at one point before an all too familiar Honda engine failure left the Spaniard stranded. Takuma Sato won the event while Josef Newgarden went on to take out the title.

What was your favourite motorsport moment in 2017? Or maybe you have some predictions for 2018? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

How did the Falcon and Commodore get their names?

The Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore are undoubtedly the two cars that will be remembered most fondly in the hearts of Australians as the years pass. But just how did the Falcon and Commodore get their names? In most cases, the names of modern cars are the result of hundreds of hours spent by marketers in boardrooms trying to conjure up a name that they believe resonates with the target audience. But in the case of the Falcon and the Commodore, there is a little bit more to the story! Read on to find out about the origins of the names of these two great cars.

The Ford Falcon

Unbeknownst to some, the Falcon has a history long before it ever hit the shores of Australia with some experts believing the name goes as far back as 1935 when Edsel Ford used the name plate on an early luxurious motor vehicle. It didn’t hang around long though, and by 1938 the Falcon had been rebranded as Mercury, which of course went on to become the long-lived ‘luxury’ division of the Ford Motor Company.

The Falcon then reappeared in 1955 as a Chrysler concept vehicle, which was built with the intention of going head to head with the Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet’s Corvette. After only 2 or 3 were built, the idea was shelved once the costings of developing a low volume, high priced vehicle didn’t quite stack up. Now from here is where the story goes one of two directions depending on which side you believe. The first story goes that in 1958, both Chrysler and Ford had internally named their new small car the ‘Falcon’. In the auto industry all names need to be registered with the Automotive Manufacturers Association, and in a case of true coincidence Ford managed to register their ‘Falcon’ a matter of only 20 minutes ahead Chrysler, ensuring the name was Ford’s. Controversy ensued and Chrysler was left searching for a new name.

On the contrary, the other much less exciting story is that Henry Ford II called up Chrysler boss Tex Colbert and asked for permission to use the Falcon name. Colbert was happy to allow the name be used as Chrysler had their eye on another name… The Valiant.

Two years the later the Falcon made its way to Australian shores and after a few early hiccups became one half of Australia’s much publicised Holden v Ford rivalry.

The Holden Commodore

As some of you may know, the Holden Commodore didn’t actually start its life on Australian shores. Some 60 years ago, Opel were building a car called the ‘Rekord’. In 1967 a slightly upspec-ed Rekord was rebranded as the Opel Commodore and marketed as a faster and better looking alternative to the dating Rekord. While the naming process isn’t as interesting or long winded as the Falcon, the Commodore was named after the naval officer rank.

After 10 years of Commodore production the name was brought to Australia and utilised under the Holden banner. The original model, the VB Commodore shared its likeness with both the Opel Commodore C and the Rekord Series E. Right through until 2007 the Holden Commodore drew on a design used by the Opel Omega and Opel Senator before being replaced by the first truly Australian designed Commodore – the VE. So while in 2018 the Commodore will be replace by an Opel, remember it’s not the first time that Australia has been graced with a European designed Holden.

What other car makes and models should we look at the origins of? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Dick Johnson and The Infamous Rock

Ford racing legend Dick Johnson was at the centre of one of motorsports greatest controversies in 1980. While leading the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 disaster struck when he encountered a rock on top of the mountain on lap 17, ruining both his car and any hopes he had of race victory. In this article we will recount the incident, the following outpouring of support from the general public and discuss just how the rock ended up on the track.

The 1980 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 started about as well as Johnson could have hoped. With main rival Peter Brock experiencing issues as a result of a collision with a back marker and going a lap down at the start of lap 17, the race was Johnson’s to lose. As any Australian motorsport fan would know, the mountain tends to strike in the strangest of ways, and only a matter of 30 seconds after putting Brock a lap down, Johnson experienced firsthand the ways of the mountain. After passing through the cutting, Johnson rounded the next right to be confronted with a tow truck on one side of the road, and a football sized rock on the other. With nowhere to go, Johnson hit the rock. The impact ripped the front wheel and suspension apart before sending the XD Falcon into the wall at high speed. At such an early stage of the race it’s hard to say it cost Johnson a certain victory, but with the lapped Brock going on to win the great race, it’s not too much of a stretch to say the race was Johnson’s to lose.

Later in the day Johnson was interviewed for TV, where he emotionally explained the incident, stating “I just couldn’t believe my bloody eyes. These galoots up there that just throw boulders... like it was enormous.” He went on to explain that to repair the car and have it back on track would cost him at least $40,000 and that until fences were installed around the track he wouldn’t be returning. The public responded with an outpouring of support, calling into the TV station to donate money towards the rebuilding of Johnson’s car. When all was said and done, $72,000 had been donated by the public, which was matched by Ford Australia leaving the grand total at $144,000. The amount reignited Johnson’s racing career, which still continues today as a key stakeholder in the DJR Team Penske Racing Team, which is currently dominating the 2017 Supercar Championship. Of course Johnson would return to the mountain, recording three wins in the great race, including the very next year in 1981.

But just how did that rock end up in the middle of the Mt Panorama racing circuit? Well the story goes that two hungover men had made their way to the side of the track to watch the racing after a big night on the cans. One of them was lying down with his head resting on one rock and his feet resting on another, using it to hold him in position on the steep bank above the track. While moving his feet, he dislodged the rock, sending it plummeting down the embankment. At this point the two men bolted and were never to be seen again and as for the rock… the rest is history. Johnson has since stated in interviews that he believes this story and even shares in the humour of the situation, having the rock on display in his office for the last 30 years.

What’s your favourite Bathurst memory? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Aussie Cars that never were

When we think about Aussie cars, our minds drift towards the Commodore, the Falcon, or the Territory. However, what about those Aussie cars that didn’t quite go as far in the public domain as these classics? Australia has produced some awesome cars that didn’t quite reach the lofty heights laid out in planning. In this article we will take a look at three Aussie cars that didn’t sell in the intended quantities, but still hold a special place in Australian automotive history.

Ilinga AF-2

The Ilinga (aboriginal word meaning ‘distant horizon’) AF-2 was designed by Tony Farrell in partnership with Victorian businessman Daryl Davies. The intention for the Ilinga was to be a high-performance luxury coupe utilising aluminium body panels over a steel chassis, using a modified Leyland/Rover 4.4 litre V8 to provide the power. Before running into financial difficulties, two prototypes were built and orders were taken, however the 1970’s oil crisis ensured the closing of Leyland Australia, meaning the Ilinga had lost its engine supplier. One of the prototypes lives in the carpark entrance of the Melbourne Museum, whilst the other is nowhere to be found!

 

Giocattolo

Born in 1986, the Giacattolo was the brainchild of Paul Helstead and F1 engineer Barry Lock. With plans to build Australia’s first Supercar, Helstead and Lock took an Alfa Romeo Sprint and dropped a 5 litre Walkinshaw Holden Group A V8. Producing 220kw and 500Nm, the car was a rocket, capable of powering the Giocattolo from 0-100 in under 5.5 seconds while having an electronically limited top speed of 260kph. With upgraded tyres, brakes, transmission and a supremely high tech suspension package, the Giocatollo was akin to a Go-Kart on steroids. The $80,000 price tag however was a bridge too far for consumers, and production ceased after only 3 years and 15 units were built. To take a look at the article we put together on the Italian/Australian pocket rocket earlier in 2017, click here.

Joss JT1/JP1/Vanguard

With more comeback tours than John Farnham, what started out as the Joss JT1 was supposed to be Australia’s answer to iconic supercars such as the Enzo Ferrari and Lamborghini Murcielago. It has never eventuated unfortunately, as numerous attempts to get the project off the ground including renames to JP1 and eventually Vanguard have fallen flat. Featuring a 6.8 litre V8, the 940kg supercar was fast enough to achieve 0-100kph in less than 3 seconds and run the quarter mile in a tick under 12 seconds in stock trim. Only 1 Joss has been built to date and the outlook looks bleak, however we’ve been in this position before only for Joss to announce that the project has been fired into life again! So who knows, maybe there’s still hope for the Joss JT1/JP1/Vanguard?

Have you spotted any of these low production Aussie cars on the road? Or maybe you’re the proud owner of one of the very few remaining Giacattolo’s? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.