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!

 

Classic Bathurst Recap - 2006

The Bathurst 1000 of 2006 will be forever etched in history as the one “The King of the Mountain” watched from up high and saw his protégé’ Craig Lowndes, alongside a champion in the making, Jamie Whincup, hold the first ever Peter Brock Trophy over the pit lane crowd.

It was the second win for CL, as he’s known, and the first for Whincup after his second place the year before.

Thirty one cars would be entered in this year’s “Great Race”, with an almost even split of Holden and Ford branded vehicles. Ford would field fifteen BA Falcons, the first model after the ill-fated AU Falcon, whilst Holden showcased sixteen VZ Commodores, the final iteration of a design essentially a decade old.

Qualifying was tight and intense, resulting in the top eight cars being separated by under a second, and the top eighteen cars separated by under two seconds.

Again it was almost an even split for the then top two locally made cars, with four Falcons and six Commodores. Of the top five though, just one blue oval branded car would be there, with a former Holden driver, Jason Bright, in second. Provisonal pole had gone to Holden driver Mark Skaife in a blistering 2:06.9764, just a tenth ahead of Bright’s Falcon.

The Top Ten Shootout would see Skaife carry that form onwards, with a 2:07.4221, a full three tenths quicker than Bright. Rick Kelly, New Zealand born Jason Richards and Greg Murphy, all in Commodores, would round out the top five. Eventual race winner Lowndes, driving the Ford BA Falcon, would be beaten to fifth by a mere four one thousandths of a second.

The race itself was held on Sunday October 8. In 2006 it was the ninth race weekend of the then V8 Supercars Championship. It would also prove to be the longest race since 2002. With all 161 laps completed it finished just seven seconds shy of seven hours and a full twenty two minutes longer than the previous year.

A race start incident proved to be crucial in the final results. Pole sitter Skaife went from hero to zero within a half minute, with a clutch failure leaving him battling to get his Commodore moving to race speed. Although he had cleared the first corner he had got as far as the first rise on the road to the top of the mountain, and with heavy traffic behind him an unfortunate Jack Perkins was blindsided, ploughing his Commodore into Skaife’s and forcing him into the wall.

This allowed the second grid spot driver, Jason Bright and his co-driver Mark Winterbottom, to take the lead. However a brake lockup had Bright require a tyre change with just fifteen laps completed. More woe befell the duo with Winterbottom garaging the car on lap 28. A full fourteen cars would fail to finish the 2006 race, with Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe, alongside his mate and co-driver Brad Jones, finishing eleventh.

The race was punctuated by a number of safety car interventions, including one of over twenty minutes after the veteran Kiwi born Paul Radisich, on lap 71, had his Commodore spear into a retaining wall at the Chase. The impact rolled the car onto its side and left Radisich in need of trackside marshal intervention to remove him from his stricken vehicle. Just six laps would be held in that fourth hour of the race.

As seems traditional with the Bathurst 1000, a late race incident played a part in the final standings. Jason Richards also lost control and hit a wall. Laps remaining were just ten. Rick Kelly and Craig Lowndes were dealing with a six second buffer prior to the final safety car call to deal with the Richards car. A fired up Lowndes would lay down the race’s quickest lap on the 158th circuit of the 6.213 kilometres worth of tarmac, and would greet the chequered flag a bare half second ahead of a determined Kelly.

In tumultuous and emotional scenes on the presentation balcony, Lowndes would be in tears as he acknowledged his late friend and mentor, Peter Brock.

Is 2006 your favourite Bathurst 1000? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us your memories of the weekend in the comments section below this article.

Touring Car Masters 2018 - Previewing the final rounds

The Australian historic racing car category, the Touring Car Masters, is definably Australia’s premium historic racing cars group. The guidelines are comparatively simple: have three driver categories and have cars of a pre-1976 era. Trackside watchers will see Chevrolet Camaros, BOSS Mustangs, and entrants from Australia’s own automotive vaults of history, the Valiant Chargers, Ford Falcon GTs, and Holden Monaros.

The driver regulations cover ProMaster for professional drivers, ProAm for part time “let’s have fun” drivers, and ProSports. This is something different in allowing a car to be entered by different contestants in order to try and gain extra points for the car in a championship sense.

There are some BIG names in the TCM as they’re known; Phil “Split-pin” Brock, Glenn “The Babyfaced Assassin” Seton, Andrew Miedecke, Jim Richards, Steve Johnson, and Rare Spares Ambassador John Bowe.

The category itself is now in its twelfth year having being born in 2007. The 2018 season has eight rounds and is part of the Supercars overall presence. This year kicked off in Adelaide and has completed five rounds so far. There’s three more rounds to go and all three will be part of the Supercars enduros: Sandown for September 14-16, Bathurst over the weekend of October 4-7, and then the final round in Newcastle for the November 23-25 weekend.

In the overall standings its John Bowe on top, having won three of the five rounds thus far. Steve Johnson is tapping on his rear bumper, with 959 points, just 18 shy of Bowe’s 977. Former V8 Ute drivers Adam Bressington and Jason Gomersall are in third and fourth, with all four in the ProMasters driver group. Fifth overall goes to Cameron Tilley, well known for his driving exploits in a Falcon GT-HO. Cam also leads the ProAm driver standings, with respected Production Touring Cars pilot Jim Pollicina leading the ProSports.

Unless both Bowe and Johnson have shockers over the next three rounds, allowing Bressington, Gomersall, and Tilley a sniff of top two success, the gap they have over the third placed Bressington, currently on 837 and 97 ahead of Gomersall on 744, it’s likely either of these heroes from the DJR historic stable will claim the top step of the podium at the end of the 2018 season. Former Mustang driver Bowe has been driving a Holden Torana once owned by fellow racer Charlie O’Brien in the 2018 season, a car featuring a permanent tribute to the late Jason Richards. Johnson has taken over the wheel of the car Bowe raced and sold a couple of years ago to his good mate Tony Warner. The car is unsurprisingly known as “Mustang Sally”.

Of the 2018 season so far Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe has a few words. “The cars are sensationally difficult to drive. In some cases there’s over 700 horsepower and only 15 x 8 inch wheels and tyres! No wonder they need a bit of caution.”

John has stated that he feels the category’s driving standards may need some scrutiny, “These old classics are way more expensive to fix than modern cars. There’s no doubting that the TCM is popular with the spectators and TV audiences but no one enjoys seeing these cars wrecked.” John himself has been on the receiving end of some of the driving standards he feels needs scrutiny, which makes his 2018 results all the more remarkable.

What’s your thoughts on the Touring Car Masters? Let us know on our Facebook page in the comment section below this article!