The 2013 V8 Supercars championship battle will go down to the final lap of the Sydney 500 in a fortnight’s time after a spectacular Phillip Island failed to make the championship picture much clearer.
While Red Bull duo Lowndes and Whincup did extend their lead over Ford rival and arch nemesis Mark Winterbottom with brilliant efforts on Sunday – the pair finishing one-two respectively in race one and third and first in race two – they remain in a tight duel between themselves.
Just 20 points separate the pair after the penultimate round of the 2013 championship, with Whincup carrying the championship lead into the final two 250km races on the unforgiving streets of Sydney in less than 14 days’ time.
That leaves Whincup in contention for his third consecutive title and fifth in six years, while Lowndes remains well and truly in the battle for his first championship since 1999.
“We had to do something special to stay in contention,” Lowndes said.
“You never know what these races are going to be like this time of the year but congratulations to the guys at Red Bull. It’s all turned out for now and I know it’s going to be very tough.”
Whincup added: “We weren’t completely happy with the car but I’m glad we could maximise our position and bring on Sydney. Congrats to the engineers for getting my car so quick for that last race.”
The two were lucky to escape Phillip Island with their cars in tact let alone as championship frontrunners.
Sunday’s Race One almost scaled the limits of the day before when a four-way battle for position on the very first corner of the race at 200km/h almost resulted in carnage of epic proportions.
Somehow, both Whincup and Lowndes, who started fourth and eighth respectively, managed to avoid the chaos and sneak through the pack into first and third position by turn two. The big loser? FPR’s Mark Winterbottom, who went from third to eighth after coming together with Shane Van Gisbergen.
After being excused of any charges of unsportsmanlike conduct for running Lowndes off the track in Saturday’s race, the incident almost served as karma for the extremely quick driver, who never regained position to finish the first race a distant seventh.
Whincup and Lowndes meanwhile set the standard, Whincup stretching out to a six-second race lead before a safety car drew him back to the field two thirds into the race. Just moments before the safety car, Lowndes overcame both Chaz Mostert and Van Gisbergen to move into second. And on the resumption of the race, he displayed exceptional pace to set the fastest lap of the race and take his team-mate for first, bringing the points differential between the pair back to six in Whincup’s favour.
Race two was never going to be an easy one, what with Lowndes starting on the front row of the grid next to Winterbottom and Whincup only a few spots back in fifth.
Whincup made a blockbuster of a start to claim the lead from Winterbottom and then Lowndes inside two laps, and even back-to-back safety cars couldn’t change the finishing order. Whincup set a new lap record to stake his claim for a third successive championship.
Going into the Sydney 500, Whincup leads the championship with 2815 points from Lowndes (2795) and Winterbottom (2691).