For the first time in seven years, Craig Lowndes is on the brink of glory, with a chance to claim the V8 Supercars title that has eluded him since scoring the last of his three championship wins in 1999.
It’s been a hard slog since Rick Kelly robbed him of the 2006 title but like the true champion he is, the 38-year-old has clawed his way back and now only his team-mate and the cement walls of the Sydney 500 stand between him and the coveted silverware.
Trailing J-Dub by just 20 points heading into the two 250km races this weekend, Lowndesy is closer to his dream fourth crown than ever before. And he just happened to be surprisingly talkative about it when we caught up with him this week. As such, we’ve decided to give you our exclusive conversation in full length, un-edited and gibber-free. Enjoy!
RBRA: Before we can talk about Sydney, we have to bring up Phillip Island and the incident with Mark Winterbottom on the final turn. That was championship-changing stuff…
CL: The Frosty incident is an interesting outcome. I would have suspected that they would have changed their view on what they did. Their view was that it was a racing incident. The one thing that we’ve now said to the officials is that they’ve opened up a Pandora’s box in the sense of allowing that much contact to go on, which again will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the Sydney 500 because being a street circuit it’s very tight and the bump-and-pass now seems to be accepted. It’ll be interesting to see what they now accept as driver conduct. But look, it’s motor racing. We can’t change it now, so we get on with it. It was disappointing. In saying that, I think it was something that played out more in media than what basically was going on.
RBRA: It’s been a long time since you were so close to winning a championship. What does your preparation involve?
CL: I’ve got a lot of confidence. If we can keep up the speed we showed at Phillip Island I think we’re in for a good showing. If we don’t, we’re going to end up second again so it’s pretty clear-cut for us. Despite being 20 points behind, I’m still full of confidence that we can win a championship. And I think our preparation going into the weekend won’t change. I’ve been very mindful of making sure I spend enough time with JJ and with the guys, making sure that I’m comfortable in the car, making sure we’re not too tired and basically get the job done.
RBRA: You and Jamie have been closer than ever this year – both on the track and off it. But now it’s do or die. Are battle lines drawn in the garage for Sydney?
CL: Jamie and I have both got a great opportunity to win another championship. I think it really comes down to operating in the same vein as what we’ve done in the past. We’ll share information and data. It really comes down to each one of us getting the best out of ourselves and the car on the day. I think it’s pretty plain and simple for us – if we don’t help each other out in the sense of the setup side of it, we’ll start fighting for the middle of the pack instead of being up the front. So we’ll help each other out and it just really comes down to our own desires.
RBRA: Sydney is a brutal track but you hold the record as being the most successful driver there with four top-two finishes from your past four starts…
CL: Last year we had a great run and definitely can come into a circuit like that with a bit of confidence. But knowing how strong Jamie is on street circuits, I don’t think that we can count on his weaker results in the past at Homebush. If we can get a good car setup, or the best car setup we can, I think that’ll put us in good stead. I think that the challenge for us is staying off the wall. And if we can qualify up the front there’s a greater chance of staying out of trouble. We just need a car that stops and puts its power down well and rides the curbs exceptionally well, which is something that we need to make sure we can do.
RBRA: Literally, whoever finishes in front of their rivals this weekend will almost certainly win the championship. Is it a win at all costs attitude from here on in?
CL: I don’t think the attitude can be anything other than win-at-all-costs. I think at the moment it’s pretty plain that I need to beat Jamie and Jamie needs to beat me to win a championship. Although we’re going to be helping each other out in the pits, once we’re in the car we’re going to be trying our best to outdo each other. But there are other elements involved in that decision-making, which are other cars. If you get caught up in someone else’s accident or incident or someone else gets involved with you it’s going to be a tough weekend.
RBRA: How much of a threat is Mark Winterbottom 104 points back?
CL: I think at the moment Jamie is the bigger threat for both of us because obviously we’re trying to win a championship and Jamie’s the leader of the championship at the moment. So the bigger threat is trying to overcome Jamie, but no doubt we can’t be too complacent about where Frosty is because he’s unpredictable at times and a bit erratic. We’ve just got to make sure that we have half an eye on what he’s doing, but at the same time focus on what’s in front of us.
RBRA: Given the mayhem street circuits can cause, are you worried of what may unfold around you from the remaining 25 drivers not in contention for the championship?
CL: Look, I think that everyone’s well aware of what’s going on in the championship and who’s in the running for it. But by the same token they’re all racing for themselves and trying to finish the year on a strong note. There are also drivers out there at the moment who are relying on results from next weekend to secure a drive for next year so you can’t rely on them getting out of your way, you’ve just got to try and outdo them if you can in qualifying and then of course out-race them.
RBRA: What would it mean to Craig Lowndes to win his fourth championship 14 years after his last?
CL: It would be fantastic. I didn’t think it’d take so long to try and win another championship. We’ve been very close up until now. We’ve had many a year of running second or thereabouts, so to win another championship, especially after 14 years, I think it would be a tremendous achievement and I think it would be fantastic because it’s something I’ve never done for Triple Eight.
RBRA: Last message for Frosty?
CL: Have a good Christmas. 🙂
RBRA: The last thing you’ll say to J-Dub before you get in the car?
CL: Good luck – what we’ve always done. I think we’ll always go over there and have respect for one another and basically wish each other good luck. Then it just comes down to getting the job done on track.