No other event this season has had so much buildup – the atmosphere coming into the 2013 Phillip Island 360 is so tense it makes Arnie’s best bicep flex look feeble.
The Island is renowned for some make and break championship moments, so join us over the next couple of weeks as we relive some of the Red Bull Racing Australia boys’ high and lows from years gone by at the stunning Victorian circuit.
It’s 2011 and Car No.888 engineer Jeromy “JJ” Moore can’t believe what he’s seeing unfold before his very eyes. Triple Eight boss Roland Dane is almost certainly pulling out what remains of his hair.
For Mark Skaife, Lowndesy’s co-driver, is behind the wheel and has made a lunge at Jamie Whincup’s car. It could be race over for both Triple Eight cars but, luckily, Skaife relents and the impact is nothing more than a door hit.
“Well, I think there was a little more to that than meets the eye,” JJ says with a laugh.
“A bit of old-fashioned gamesmanship. Skaifey punted the side of Car No.1 and effectively gave us a race win because the dinted door meant their driver change was slower than ours because the driver couldn’t open the door and get out.
“I think it was an old bull tactic by Skaifey, jamming the driver’s door shut. So there’s a lot of good memories there for me. That’s a personal favourite and quite funny.”
We’re not entirely sure anyone on the other side of the garage was LOLing that day…
Anywho, come Phillip Island in two weeks’ time and 2011 will be but a distant memory. There are no co-drivers, no endurance points up for grabs and teams will be contesting the race on a newly re-surfaced track with untried Cars of the Future. Then there’s the closest championship battle we’ve seen in recent years.
And, as JJ illustrates, Phillip Island is also among the most difficult tracks in the championship to perfect car set-up.
“It’s quite a different track from most others, especially from the Gold Coast where it’s all about slow speed traction and curb riding,” JJ says.
“There are more aspects to the track than just jumping curbs. You’ve got to have a car that’s set-up to have aerodynamic stability as well as mechanical balance.
“This track you need the car balanced in high speed corners but without sacrificing speed on the low speed corners. You need good traction and good turn, you can’t just go in one direction with set-up unlike many other tracks where it’s all about curb riding and being soft on the tyres.
“You can’t just look for the rear like you can on street circuits – you need a good front and rear, which is a lot harder to get right.”
Which means you want a damn good engineer in your corner, who’s on song, or your championship stake is all but over.
“As engineers, it’s an awesome track to go to and you take a bit more pride with a good result at Phillip Island,” he says.
“At Phillip Island it’s a bit more biased towards car set-up than driver, whereas at most tracks the driver can be more of an influence. But if the car’s not right in Phillip Island you won’t go well.
“In saying that, your driver still needs to be confident and quick. There are some very quick corners there and it’s very difficult as a driver.”
Looks like Lowndesy and JJ are lucky to have each other.
Stay tuned next week when we catch up with Car No.1 Engineer Mark “Dutto” Dutton, plus J-Dub and Lowndesy themselves.