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HOLDEN ZB COMMODORE
V8 SUPERCAR COTF
AUTOBARN LOWNDES RACING
#888 DRIVERS: CRAIG LOWNDES/STEVEN RICHARDS
2018 SUPERCHEAP BATHURST 1000 WINNER
LIMITED EDITION OF 580 PIECES - ETA OCT/NOV 2019
The 2018 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 was always going to be a special one for Craig Lowndes.
The popular evergreen veteran announced at that July’s Townsville 400 that he was stepping down from full-time Supercars competition at the end of the season, making October’s trip to Mount Panorama his last as a main driver.
If his 22nd championship season was to be his last, Lowndes was keen to ensure he went out in top form. Entering his second full-season with race engineer John ‘Irish’ McGregor, the arrival of the new Holden Commodore ZB, clad in the black and silver with green and gold accents of new sponsor Autobarn, combined to propel Lowndes back into being a regular contender at the front of the field.
A victory from pole position at Symmons Plains – the 106th of his career – plus a strong run to third at the Sandown 500 with co-driver Steven Richards (also completing an all-Triple Eight Race Engineering lockout of the podium), all pointed towards Lowndes being a genuine threat for victory heading to Bathurst.
However the race weekend was far from straightforward for Lowndes, Richards and the #888 crew.
Persistent rain on Thursday saw several contenders stay in the garage, minimising risk in anticipation of dry weather when it really mattered during qualifying and the race.
The #888 also turned minimal laps, but not out of self-preservation. The Autobarn Holden was plagued with a power steering issue that the team was having difficulty tracing.
The forecast clear skies arrived for qualifying, Lowndes setting the sixth-fastest time to make the cut for one last Top 10 Shootout as a full-time driver. In his 17th Bathurst shootout, equaling the tally of mentor Peter Brock, Lowndes slid to ninth on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Worse still, the car’s power steering was still not right. Overnight detective work by McGregor and former F1 engineer Sam Michael finally cured the problem in time for the Sunday morning warm-up session.
Lowndes made steady progress from the moment the lights went green, the only real blip coming when Richards ran off the road at pit entry on lap 57. He more than made up for the error with a strong double-stint later in the race to hand the car to Lowndes on lap 94 in second place, the veteran getting behind the wheel for a grueling triple stint to the chequered flag.
With several other contenders sidelined by mechanical failures, lost wheels or slow pit stops, the race for the win boiled down to a straight fight between Lowndes and reigning champion David Reynolds.
The gap between the pair ebbed and flowed but was never greater than a handful of seconds, the pair drawing away from the field as they lapped at record pace.
As the final round of pit stops neared Reynolds became afflicted with leg cramps from dehydration and exhaustion, allowing Lowndes safe passage into the lead on lap 135.
From there Lowndes managed his eight-second margin over the waning laps, even finding the time to take in the raucous cheers from the crowd across the top of the Mountain on the final tour.
“What an amazing finish! I’ve never had such a big gap on the last lap to be able to enjoy it,” Lowndes said.
“To have all the problems we had earlier in the week and then for us to bounce back as a team was really good.”
The triumph was Lowndes’ seventh, tying him for second on the all-time list and drawing him within two of Brock’s record tally of nine, while the win was also the fifth for Richards.
“Unbelievable, words cannot describe what’s just happened. I’m just stunned,” Richards exclaimed.
“We know at this place anything can happen, but we’ve had a tough weekend on our side of the garage and when it came to it the boys dug deep.”
The pair wrapped up the 2018 Pirtek Enduro Cup a fortnight later on the Gold Coast, a third-placing in the weekend’s sole race enough to add yet another piece of silverware to each drivers’ decorated CVs.