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! 

A look at John Bowe’s On-Track achievements

Rare Spares Brand Ambassador and Australian Motorsport icon, John Bowe, was recently inducted into the Australian Motorsport Hall of Fame, joining names such as Brock, Webber and Brabham on the illustrious list. Throughout his hugely successful career, Bowe’s resume stacks up against some of the greatest in the history of the sport. In this article, we’ll take a quick look back at a few of the highlights on Australian shores throughout his career (so far!).

Back-to-Back Australian Drivers Championships

In the mid 80’s Bowe went on a tear through the 1984 & 1985 Australian Drivers Championships behind the wheel of a Cosworth powered Ralt RT4, winning 9 of a possible 12 races across the two year span. The two championships really kickstarted a career that would result in him becoming the only person in history to win the Australian Drivers Championship, Australian Sports Car Championship and Australian Touring Car Championship.

Bathurst victories with Dick Johnson

Bowe joined forces with Dick Johnson to take victory on the mountain on two occasions. First in 1989 behind the wheel of the light switch powered Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth, and the second occasion in 1994 in the Ford EB Falcon. The Sierra was so hit and miss that the DJR cars were almost guaranteed of victory provided they made it to the finish line. The duo qualified on pole and led almost every single lap around the mountain to earn Bowe’s first Bathurst victory. In 1994 the team came from 10th on the grid to victory after Johnson had a mishap during Saturday’s Top Ten Shootout – a very impressive performance!

1995 Australian Touring Car Championship

The 1995 ATCC driver lineup reads as a ‘who’s who’ of Australia’s most talented racing drivers with names such as Brock, Seton, Perkins, Johnson, Skaife, Crompton and Richards gracing the starter’s flag each weekend. None were a match for Bowe and his Shell Racing DJR EF Falcon, who went on to win four events to win the title by an impressive 27 points over Glenn Seton at years end.

2014 Bathurst 12 Hour Victory

In 2014 John Bowe joined forces with Craig Lowndes, Mika Salo and Peter Edwards to win what as at the time the fastest Bathurst 12 Hour yet. Behind the wheel of their Ferrari 458 GT3 the team completed 296 laps to beat out a number of highly touted local and international teams. The win came in Bowe’s 29th consecutive year racing at the famed circuit.

What do you consider John Bowe’s greatest motorsport achievement? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Blast from the Past – The Supercars tracks of yesteryear

In two weeks’ time the 2017 Supercars season will reach fever pitch as the championship comes down to the wire at the brand new Newcastle street circuit. The Newcastle circuit is undoubtedly going to prove to be one of the more picturesque racing locations on the circuit and a worthy replacement for the at times dull Sydney Olympic Park race. The Olympic Park location isn’t the first track in Supercars history to make way for a new and improved location, in this article we’ll take a look at some of the rounds that are no longer on the Supercars calendar.

Calder Park

Calder was staple on the ATCC and V8 Supercars throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and along with Sandown was one of two championship races within a stone's throw of Melbourne CBD. The Supercars utilised the ‘road’ circuit at the facility, bypassing the iconic Thunderdome, a feature which many feel could have added to the variety of racing on the Supercars calendar and potentially lead to a NASCAR style duel format of racing. Unfortunately racing ceased at the venue after the 2001 event when the racing surface and facilities were deemed not up to scratch. The circuit was also the scene of one of the biggest touring car crashes in recent memory when a young Craig Lowndes and his VT commodore went cartwheeling down the front straight after making contact with Steven Richards and Garth Tander.

Oran Park

Another iconic Australian racing circuit, Oran Park played host to battles from Brock and Moffat through to Ambrose and Skaife before closing down in 2008 to make way for a housing estate. A favourite of many drivers, the short and narrow circuit included one of the only ‘over-under’ bridges in Australian racing. Now unrecognisable to the average racing punter, the only remaining indicator of racing ever taking place on the site is the motorsport related street names.

Hamilton Street Circuit

Running between 2008 and 2012, the Hamilton 400 took the place of Pukekohe on the Supercars calendar and provided a happy hunting ground for 6 time series champion Jamie Whincup, who took 2 of the 5 race victories at the venue. The racing itself at the track was interesting enough, however bubbling away behind the scenes was a massive debate within the Hamilton City council when it was discovered the event had been operating at a significant loss in its final 2 years. Subsequently the event was relocated back to Pukekohe where it remains today as the Auckland SuperSprint.

Mallala

Mallala Motorsport Park flew the South Australian flag in the ATCC right up until 1999 when it was replaced on the calendar by the incoming Clipsal 500, which itself was also filling the void left by the Adelaide iteration of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. The track received mixed reviews from competitors with Dick Johnson openly criticizing the track’s lack of facilities and bumpy racing circuit; however such remarks were uncommon from Johnson who was renowned for being not much of a fan of any tracks outside of Queensland. On the other hand, Jim Richards suggested the tight track would even the competition up, ensuring close racing at a time when the RS5000 Sierra’s were dominating the competition. Racing at lower levels still takes place at the circuit; however with the passing of longtime owner Clem Smith earlier this year, the future of racing at the circuit is unclear.

With a number of other circuits coming and going over the years including trips to Bahrain, Texas and local circuits such as Amaroo Park, Lakeside and the Canberra Street Circuit the Supercars championship has spread its wings far and wide, we’re just scratching the surface!

Which former Supercars or ATCC circuit was your favourite? Which would you replace on the current calendar? Head over the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments below.