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!

 

The Holden Monaro 427C - Australia's Homegrown GT Monster

The Australian automotive industry is an oddity in the global scheme of things. A small buying population, the most brands per head of population, and innovations not seen elsewhere, make it virtually unique.

Although we weren’t the first to build a car with a hardtop and two doors, we certainly made some great ones. Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Holden all have cars that are memorable and one that stands out was the Monaro 427C. 

Designed, engineered, and built in Australia, this car was intended to be a track weapon and race in the Bathurst 24 Hour. The first of these races was set to run in late 2002, meaning the development of the car, slated to run in 2003, had to be brought forward. 

The heartbeat of the 427C was its US sourced 7.0L or 427cid V8. With the Holden Racing Team turning down the offer of developing the machine, Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) took the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R engine, a Monaro body, and the responsibility of running the 427C as a race car. 

The car would later be a controversial one; the race would attract cars from outside Australia such as Lamborghini’s Diablo GTR, Ferrari’s 360 N-GT, and the monstrous Chrysler Viper ACR. All of these cars would race with the same engine they would come off the production line with. However, the Monaro at the time came with Chev’s fabled 350cid or 5.7L V8, and therefore would be ineligible to run. However, the organiser of the race, which would come under the umbrella of a racing group called Procar, allowed the Monaro to be run with the bigger engine to be seen as more competitive with capacities such as the 8.0L V10 in the Viper.

As the race was going to be run under the then current GT regulations, GRM had to design a body kit to suit both the regulations and the aerodynamics of the VX Commodore based two door. Using the V8 Supercars design as a basis, GRM fitted a wider rear wing that sat below the car’s roofline, as per the regulations. A similar front air dam was fitted to the front, and underneath the 427C utilized a number of components that could be found on a Supercar. 

A technically minded casual observer would see a Hollinger six speed manual transmission, wheels of 18 x 11 and 18 x 13 inches, MacPherson strut front suspension and a trailing arm rear, bolted to coil springs and thick anti-roll bars. The engine was said to be good for 600 ponies (447kW) and would be bolted into the front of a car weighing 1,400 kilograms. 

All up the Monaro 427C would be 4789mm in length, run a front and rear track of 1559mm/1577mm, and roll on a wheelbase of 2788mm. The aero package provided plenty of down-force and made for a stable on track racer. 

Raced at the 2002 Bathurst 24 Hour by a team of four drivers, being Garth Tander, Nathan Pretty, Steven Richards, and Cameron McConville, the car was also being touted as being available as a road car. The race car itself would prove to be strong, durable, and a race winner. Although despite suffering a flat tyre and a collision with another car, the car would ultimately win in its debut race by 24 laps.

As a road car, it was potentially to be powered by a 433kW version of the 427cid engine. But, as a business case, the numbers simply didn’t add up and would result in a mooted buy price of $215,000 being out of reach of its intended market. Just two road going cars, and just four race cars, would be built.

The Monaro 427C would go on to compete in the Australian Nations Cup Championship in 2003, and the Bathurst 24 Hour race in the same year. A second race car had been built by then. Driven by Peter Brock, Jason Bright, Todd Kelly, and Greg Murphy, the car would win by just 0.3035 of a second. Tander, driving the 2002 winning vehicle, was thwarted in a last sector charge by a yellow flag thanks to a car close to the racing line.

The 427C would race in 2004 and see a third chassis completed, before the Nations Cup category collapsed due to fiscal issues. With regulations reverting to GT Championship rules in 2005, the Monaro 427C was deemed ineligible. Of the race cars, one is with a private collector, one is in the Bathurst Motor Museum, and little if anything is known of the locations of the others.  

A Brief History of Cheating in Motorsports

Human nature is one of the most diverse things we see on planet earth. Sadly, not all of human nature is benign, good, warm, welcoming. One of the negatives we exhibit is called cheating. Be it at school, on our partner, at work, it’s an undesirable trait.

But in motorsport? Yes, it happens. All too often. And it happens worldwide. It happens in rallying. It happens in Formula 1. It happens in IndyCar. It happened here in Australia.

America’s NASCAR was full of innovative people. At one time they had specified a maximum size for the fuel tank. A “clever” interpretation of the rules has Smokey Yunick fit a fuel hose that was eleven feet long and two inches thick. As a result, his car’s overall fuel capacity was increased. Ynick also sidestepped the rules by having an oversized tank fitted but with an inflated basketball inside. This allowed the tank to be filled to more than the regulated amount once the ball was deflated.

Tim Flock decided on a different way to improve the fuel economy of his NASCAR. His steel roll cage wasn’t steel. It looked like steel, but close inspection had a wooden structure smartly painted to resemble steel.

Australia’s royal motorsport name was involved in a somewhat cheeky cheat in 1981. Fabled F1 designer Gordon Murray built a car for the Brabham team that had adjustable ride height. When cars are scrutineered there’s a set ride height they have to adhere to. Murray built in a system that would lower the car under that ride height but would raise it back to the required amount when stopped. Murray’s sense of humour was brought into play by having a box with leads that would attach to the car, for no reason other than to visually distract onlookers, placed at random locations on the car when stopped.

Another entry from NASCAR with Ken Schrader finding his tyre wear exceeding the ability of the car to deal with it. Although leading a race, the second place car was closing rapidly. A quick thinking Schrader discharged his fire suppressant system and the second car’s driver, thinking Schrader’s car engine was about to explode, backed off. The canny Schrader timed this well enough for his lead to get him over the line for a win, with his car in perfect working order.

Japanese goliath Toyota dominated the world rally scene with its awesome and aggressive looking all wheel drive Celica. Complete with huge rear wing, quad headlight front, and legal turbocharger…wait, did I say legal turbocharger? 1995 and the car is dominating the rally world. The WRC had stated a maximum horsepower output of 300. Toyota had abided by the rules that stated a restrictor plate must be fitted inside the turbo.

What they also interpreted was that the regulations said nothing about the restrictor plate having to stay in one spot. Some brilliant engineering had the plate being moved by springs that allowed extra power to be generated, with an estimated fifty extra horsepower. The design of the turbo was such that a thorough pull-down of it was required to see the plate and even then this appeared almost as it should be.

Australia’s great race, the Bathurst 1000, closes out this quick look at motorsport cheating. The 1987 race was won by the stove hot Ford Sierras. Factory supported they were quick, at times almost undriveable according to Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe, but a little bit of physics came in to play for the win. Larger tyres cover more distance for little extra effort and the first two cars, both from the same team, were found to have enlarged wheel arches at the front, allowing a bigger rolling diameter tyre.

Subsequent investigation and appeals against the team had them disqualified, handing the win to the third placed team. That team was from HDT and the car was driven by David Parsons, Peter McLeod, and one Peter James Brock. The win, under less than ideal circumstances, gave the great PB his ninth and ultimately final ATCC win at The Mountain.

Do you know any ingenious tales of people skirting the rules in motorsports? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below this article.