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! 

History of the Ford Falcon in Supercars

Born in the early 1990s, the category originally known as V8 Supercars (and now Supercars) came from a decision by CAMS to revamp the Australian Touring Car Championship. 

One of three classes originally put together was Class A, which comprised 5.0L V8 powered Ford and Holden cars. The first Falcon to take part in what would become V8 Supercars, was the recently released EB Falcon. This model in road going trim, was the first to feature what were called “cannon barrel” headlights for the sporty XR6 and XR8 variants. Officially known as Group 3 A, Glenn Seton would take out the 1993 championship. The updated version, the EF Falcon, would take John Bowe to the championship in 1995. 

1996 saw the Australian Vee Eight Super Car Company, AVESCO, come to life. This was a joint venture organization and effectively formalized the category as being the V8 Supercars. 1996 had Ford producing the EL Falcon, the last version of the fifth generation Falcon.

Ford Australia moved into the short lived AU Falcon. Perhaps best described as a failed design study, the AU would quickly be redesigned into the BA Falcon. Wins for the Falcon in the V8 Supercars championship would be sparse between 1997, with Seton again taking the championship in an EL Falcon, to 2003. Tasmanian born Marcus Ambrose piloted his BA Falcon, under the Stone Brothers umbrella, to the flag in that year.

It would also see a “threepeat” for the team with Ambrose repeating his win in 2004, followed by Russell Ingall in 2005. Ford revamped the BA into the BF in October of 2005. However it would not be until 2008 that Jamie Whincup would bring one to the forefront of the championship with the Triple Eight Race Engineering team.

A substantial facelift for the Falcon would bring the FG series into the championship. The road going versions had a streamlined model range and a raft of under the skin improvements. The road going FG range also saw the deletion of the 5.4L V8 that was part of the engine range and was replaced by the 5.0L “Coyote” engine. In a twist that brings in the future, that engine is the one to be found in the Ford Mustang, the body shape that will take over from the now discontinued Ford Falcon in the Supercars series.

Whincup would take a FG Falcon with Triple Eight to the championship in 2009, with the Ford “Blue Oval” also winning the championship in 2010 in the hands of James Courtney and Dick Johnson Racing.

The next generation of Supercars brought in a chassis specific design from 2013, meaning Holden and Ford would build to a base design, not off a production car. Since that era started, and finished in 2018, a Ford Falcon has won the Supercars championship just twice, with Mark Winterbottom and Prodrive Racing partnering in 2015 whilst Scott McLaughlin wrapped up the championship in Newcastle in the final FG X Falcon with Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske just a few weeks ago.

The Falcon is now replaced by the incoming Mustang and will be missed on the grid by the blue-oval enthusiasts. What was your favourite Falcon Supercar racer? The Green Eyed Monster or maybe one of the many iconic Shell Racing DJR liveries? Head on over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comment section below this blog!  

The New Mustang Supercar

In motorsport’s evolution in Australia, the category known as Supercars, formerly known as V8 Supercars Australia, has opened the door to cars not of a four door body shape. With the success of the Ford Mustang in a retail sense, it makes sense to have the “tudor” as the first to be built under the new guidelines.

But first, some history. The Gen 2 design regs mandates a common chassis for any team entering the category. Builders are open but have to build a chassis and cage to the pre-determined specifications. It’s this bit that has caused some consternation and raised eyebrows, as the end result may have a car not of the same physical dimensions as the one it’s based on.

The V8 engine is located 100mm further back and down to the preceding chassis style, for weight balance and safety. Wheels must be 18 inches in diameter and thanks to the upward change it means bigger brakes can be fitted. The drivetrain is a transaxle, meaning the drive axles and gearbox are in one case.

For extra safety the fuel cell has been moved forward and the windscreen is now of a polycarbonate build, which is 250 times as strong as glass. Specific to Gen 2 also is being rear drive, right hand side drivers’ seat, four seats, and based on a car available to the public, meaning it must reflect the look of the car accurately.

What this means for the Ford Mustang Supercar is proven strength and reliability. It also means that thanks to the common chassis and cage, only a slight rejig of the Mustang’s familiar profile has been required.

There will be a little piece of history when the car makes its debut in 2019. Chassis DJRTP 02 or Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske 02, which was used for Supercars’ tyre and aerodynamic testing last year, will become one of the first Mustang Supercars. It will be used for testing and is set to be the team’s spare race car. DJRTP will build one brand new car and convert another.

It is currently the team’s second spare, last raced as a Falcon FG X in Fabian Coulthard’s hands during 2016. Work began on converting the chassis in mid 2018. Tickford Racing will also build a pair of new cars and convert two cars to the new body style.

Anticipation from teams was seen in 2017, with Cameron Waters driving a car whose chassis was earmarked to be a Mustang. After a point in time had been reached where the signoff was past to have a Mustang run in 2018, the car was built as a Falcon. The chassis’ build commenced in March of 2017, such was the timeline teams were hoping for in order to see the Mustang body run on Australian circuits this year.

Specialist graphic design outlet ssMedia, headed by Scott Yorston, has produced 3D visuals of many V8 Supercars and the current Supercar designs. Working from concept drawings and with a livery idea from the US, Scott has also produced his view of the Mustang Supercar which has been greeted with acclaim in the Australian motorsport fraternity. It shows, as much as Scott is able to produce due to legalities, a car very close to the road going version. With panels placed around the control chassis it appears a little taller in height and perhaps a little shorter than the road goer as a result.

Testing of the 2019 Mustang Supercar is underway, and we can’t wait to see it hit the track in anger! Are you looking forward to having the Mustang back on the grid of Australian race tracks? Let us know in the comments section below this article on our Facebook page!

 

Mystery Box Rally

It’s been wryly said that the first rally came after the first twenty owners of “horseless carriages” met at a pub. Disclaimer: there may be little, if any, truth, to that but it is true that car rallying sprang into life very early in the history of the car. It is generally accepted that the first rally was the Monte Carlo Rally of 1911. The format, without the name as such, goes back even further, with the 1894 Paris – Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition.

As cars, or automobiles, developed, and the technology evolved, rallying grew in popularity. Worldwide, various formats grew, with perhaps the best known being the WRC, with intercontinental rallies also proving popular. All of these take money, and sometimes lots of it. So for those with an eye on the economic side?

Australia’s world renowned for the larrikin streak and sense of humour and with a strong aftermarket car culture various forms of rallying have come and gone. One of the newer ones has, at its heart, what Australia holds dear. Mateship. Called the Shitbox Rally, drivers have cars that hover around the $1000 and are driven on a variety of road surfaces. The funds raised go towards cancer research via the Cancer Council of Australia.

The rally has spawned a child, and this is called the Mystery Box Rally. One key component of the regulations is that the cars must be at least 25 years old. It will be a looped drive, starting and finishing at the same location, and in October of 2018 the rally began from Mildura, in Victoria.

Founded in 1887, the town is situated around 100 kilometres east of the South Australia/New South Wales/Victoria border and sits on the banks of the Murray River. It’s a beautiful little town and ideal for the rally start. The cause itself is identical to the Shitbox Rally, with funds raised (teams are asked and expected to raise a minimum of $3500) going towards cancer research. Teams cover incidentals such as registration fees, food and accommodation, and fuel for around 2,500 kilometres.

To add to the enjoyment and the struggle, the regulations stipulate that only two wheel drive cars can enter. All wheel and four wheel drive cars are excluded, as are historic and vintage vehicles. The organisers, with perhaps a wise eye, also stipulate that the car to be entered should be cost effective in the possibility of a breakdown. Smartly, the organisers limited each team to just two drivers, again with an eye on the potential for carrying passengers, they being those that have had a vehicle give the ultimate sacrifice.

Drivers are kept in the dark as to the day’s route overnight – which adds the element of mystery, with information only provided to the teams early in the morning. And organizers are at pains to point out it’s not a race, as such. The winner is judged on how much was raised, the actual condition of the car (or, how hopeless it is), the joie de vivre the team exhibits, and literally anything that organisers decide on as the event progresses.

The 2018 Mystery Box Rally saw something in the order of over one hundred cars entered, ranging from a 1992 Toyota Camry wagon to a 1993 Ford Laser, from a 1990 Toyota Celica to a 1993 Holden Commodore wagon. Most teams reached their minimum $3500 amount, with Jasmine Brill & Felicity Pollock, in Fergus, a 1992 Mazda 626, raising $13,607 under the team name of “All The Gear And No Idea”.

“Two Burkes In A Merc”, Paul Marsh and John Koerner rallied a 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300C and snared $11,700, whilst Lindsay and Nicholas McAulley raked in $5725 in their 1982 Volvo 244GL, an unbreakable car if there is one.

This year’s rally raised over $367K, with a guaranteed minimum 80% going towards cancer research. If this looks like something that appeals, register here: https://www.mysteryboxrally.com.au/contact/

Have you ever entered the Mystery Box Rally and have a story to tell? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know all about it in the comments section below this article! 

Classic Australian Touring Cars

Brand loyalty. It’s a “thing” that companies spend a lot of money on in research and making it happening. Perhaps the best example of this is in the world of cars and there’s nothing more stronger nor more divisive than the love a man hath for the brand of car.

That’s why any list of Australia’s top touring cars will always be subjective, sure to cause discussion, and will be debated at length. Agreed, there are the drivers and team to consider but tell that to the marketing teams.

1. Ford Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III

1971 and Bathurst see this car linked permanently in our motorsport history. Lap 43 of The Great Race saw Bill Brown and his yellow XY roll along the Armco after his front right tyre blew at over 100mph coming into McPhillamy Park. Three and a half rolls later Brown and his XY became part of folklore. Though it wasn’t the first time Bill had put a GT-HO on its lid, but that is a story for another day.

However there is the car itself. In qualifying for 1971’s race the top seven grid spots would be occupied by this racing machine from the Blue Oval factory. The top two cars were factory backed, the other five from privateers, and just 1.1 seconds separated fourth through to seven. Pole sitter Allan Moffat would take pole by three seconds ahead of John French.

Moffat and his Ford Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III would go on to win the 1971 Hardie-Ferodo 500 and would fill in five of the top ten positions at race finish.

2. TWR Jaguar XJ-S

Jaguar is one of those brands that is either a love, or it’s a ummm, no thanks. And whilst it may not instantly be recognized as a classic Australian touring car, it did win a Bathurst 1000. The Jaguar’s Bathurst story started when Tom Walkinshaw Racing took the long and elegantly designed V12 from one of Britain’s oldest brands, and turned a grand touring car into a race oriented touring car.

The car itself took over from the legendary E-Type in 1975 and in racing trim would be entered into the then Group C category. This was for cars with engines of over three litres in capacity and placed the near five metre long “Jag” against Holden’s VK Commodore with a 5.0L V8.

In the hands of TWR and Tom himself, three XJ-S machines would be in the top ten for the 1985 James Hardie 1000. Entitled “Hardies Heroes” grid spots 6, 2, and 1 would have the JRA Ltd backed cars in place. John Goss piloted the number 10 badged car for sixth in the shootout, with Jeff Allam and Walkinshaw himself taking second and pole.

Come race time and it was the German/Australian pairing of Armin Hahne and John Goss that would greet the chequered flag after 163 laps and a race time of six hours forty one minutes. Goss would also set the fastest lap with a 2:21.86.

3. Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback.

Regarded as possibly one of the prettiest yet aggressive looking cars on Australian roads, the Holden Torana hatchback of the mid 1970s would be powered by a choice of six and V8 engines. With the tag of A9X giving the car a stronger differential and rear disc brakes plus slightly modified suspension and a Borg-Warner T10 manual four speed transmission.

Powered by the L34 spec 5.0L V8, Holden entered the LX into the Class A category for the 1978 Hardie-Ferodo 1000. That years was the introduction of the Hardies Heroes shootout, where drivers literally would draw the top ten running order for qualifying from a hat.

This era was also the sweet-spot for the Holden v Ford rivalry, as the top ten would see six Holdens and four Ford XC Falcon hardtops. Driven by Peter Brock, it would be the Marlboro-HDT Torana that would take pole by 8/10ths ahead of the Moffat Ford Dealers pairing of Colin Bond, a long time friend of Brock, and Allan Moffat.

History shows that the Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback would fill four of the top ten finishing positions, with another two being the A9X four door versions. Brock and co-driver Jim Richards would be the only car to complete the full 163 laps, finishing a full lap ahead of another A9X hatchback driven by Allan Grice and John Leffler.

And then there was the legendary performance at Mount Panorama in 1979, where Brock and Richards would finish a staggering 6-laps ahead of everyone else – the next seven placed cars were also A9X Toranas.

4. Ford Falcon XC GS Hardtop

Ford Australia had resurrected a two door design for its legendary Falcon nameplate with the “coke bottle” XA Falcon in 1972. A slender nose would be offset by a somewhat heavy tail, with the rear flanks seemingly overwhelming the 14 inch diameter wheels. Subsequent redesigns would see subtle changes at the rear and with the blunter XB and XC noses adding an assertive presence.

Although perhaps of itself not a car that imprints itself into racing consciousness, it was the 1977 one-two finish of the big machines that has the XC Falcon two-doors in this list of classic Aussie touring cars.

Although Allan Moffat, the Canadian born driver that had made Australia his home, had qualified third, behind team mate Colin Bond, he would subsequently lay down the quickest lap of the 1977 race. Finishing a lap ahead of Peter Janson and Larry Perkins in their A9X hatchback, team orders had Moffat lead Bond into the final turn and across the line by a half car length in vision that brings tears to the eyes of Ford fans.

5. Volkswagen Beetle 1200.

1963 and the Volkswagen Beetle is finding love and homes throughout the world. It also found success on Australian racetracks. Entered into Class A, a category for cars costing less than nine hundred pounds, the “Dak-dak” would be amongst the list of cars racing at Mount Panorama for the Armstrong 500. The race had moved from Victoria’s Phillip Island and with the Australian Racing Drivers Club the new organizers.

In Class A, four VW 1200s would be in the top 5, with the winners of the class, Barry Ferguson and Bill Ford completing 116 laps of the new venue, and completing this list of the top five Australian Touring Cars.

What do you think is the greatest classic Australian Touring Car?
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Picture Credit: www.autopics.com.au