It might not have been the win that so many were hoping for, but six-time Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes was still able to stamp his mark on the 50th anniversary of the Great Race with a stellar drive to steal last place on the podium.
Lowndes and his co-driver Warren Luff were almost faultless, and in a real sense of deja vu from last year, for the bulk of the race they were forced to battle their way through the pack.
The duo was forced to queue behind the other Team Vodafone Commodore of Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell during pitstops under safety car.
It cost them a significant amount of time and forced them to come from further back within the field.
Jamie Whincup said he felt it was a problem that they would have to tolerate and he believed that last year, the number of times that both he and Lowndes queued behind each other was roughly the same.
However, Lowndes was understandably frustrated when asked his opinion on teams having one refuelling booth for both cars.
“You have two ways of doing it. Either a single boom for every car like you have at the [Bathurst]12 Hour or you shut pitlane during a safety car. The economy means we don’t want to make more expense to the sport so just shut pitlane,” he said.
Both Lowndes and Luff were extremely happy to make it to the podium, especially after a difficult race where not a lot seemed to go their way.
Their race strategy had to be thrown out the window early when a piece of plastic landed on the front of their car, restricting air flow to the radiator. Rather than risking driving up the radiator temperature and doing long-term damage, Luff came in on lap 10 and they topped up his fuel. It dropped them to the rear of the field and out of sequence with pitstops, so when most of the other drivers pitted on lap 20, he moved into second place.
By lap 40, with the pack having sorted itself out and everyone having pitted, Lowndes was in the car and sitting strongly in fifth, passing Shane van Gisbergen for fourth soon after.
John McIntyre’s mistake in Will Davison’s Ford Performance Racing Falcon on lap 55 brought everyone into the pits and Lowndes dropped from third to 13th and forced another climb through the pack.
The same thing happened again later on but Luff and Lowndes continued to battle away, despite the car not always being the quickest on the track. It paid off late in the day as he was able to pass Michael Caruso and Courtney to take third place.
“Basically we didn’t have the car pace in the middle of the race. We weren’t conservative at all, we just didn’t have the pace. We worked on the car and at the end of the day, we had a good set of tyres and a big change to the roll centre and the track gripped up. That’s when it came to us,” he said.
“We struggled for most of the day and it’s fair to say we are pretty happy with where we are.”
Tyre problems were faced by every team in the race and Lowndes was convinced that it was something to do with the track, rather than a problem with the tyre compound.
“We had a few niggling problems and I don’t know what it is. It’s hit and miss, it’s one of those things where you go out and look after the tyres and you still have problems or you can go out like I did with the last set and drill them and basically didn’t have a problem,” he said.
“It’s obviously something that we’re all hitting somewhere around the place and it always happens on the left hand side. We were having front problems, the other car was having front and rear problems.
“Who knows what we are running over but it’s obviously something.”