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!

 

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.

The Introduction of the V6 Twin Turbo to Supercars

Way back in 2014, it was announced that Supercars (formally V8 Supercars) were going to open up their rules starting in 2017 to allow cars other than 4 door sedans and engines other than 5 litre V8’s into the category. Dreams of Camaro’s, Mustang’s and GTR’s instantly overcame the Supercars fan base. Fast forward to the 2017 season and no teams or manufacturers had taken up the offer to run a new car in the category. We have however, received an insight in to the future of the category via the Red Bull Triple Eight Racing Team, who have been developing both their ZB Commodore body and more importantly the 3.6 litre Twin Turbo V6 engine.

With a reported 475kw, the new powerplant was manufactured in Pontiac, Michigan before being shipped to Triple Eight Racing for testing in their Sandman ride day car. And while we will only see the engine on track in select events in 2018, preparations are well underway with all three of Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen spinning laps in the Sandman. So it’s all systems go from a development side of things, but how do the general punters feel about the move?

Well, it’s fair to say the public’s opinion on the issue is all over the place. Triple Eight Racing recently released footage of the Sandman cutting laps around the Norwell Motorplex in Queensland and opened the floor for feedback from Supercars fans. Some think it’s absolute sacrilege that anything other than a big V8 will grace the starter at Bathurst, Sandown or Surfers Paradise. Others were pleasantly surprised by the unique sound provided by the boosted small capacity V6. I’m sure that the very Facebook comments section below this blog will provide a wide array of opinions and beliefs on the topic!

Alas, the V6 is on its way and you can’t help but wonder how it will stack up. Will it be a case of miscalculation, where the new option comes in and lays waste to the competition? Or will the engineers strike the perfect balance of power and controllability that ensures that the Supercars of the future are not all that different to years past? Time will tell.

Detractors will point to the Nissan Skyline’s of the early 90’s that were just about unstoppable at the hands of Mark Skaife and Jim Richards as to why mixing naturally aspirated engines and their force fed cousins is a recipe for disaster. They’ll also point to the fact that there won’t be a twin turbo production Commodore available to the general public as a reason for their lack of enthusiasm. But technology has come a long way in the last decade and it’s been quite some time since Supercars closely resembled any sort of production car. So in this writer’s humble opinion, providing the racing is still interesting, the crowds will flock and the modern day ‘Australian Touring Car Championship’ will live on.

What are your thoughts on the introduction of the twin turbocharged V6 to the Supercars championship? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook Page and let us know in the comments section below.