Current championship No.2 Craig Lowndes rolled the dice and won in Townsville today, the Red Bull Racing Australia driver making up 11 positions to lead the majority of the 200km race before finishing fourth.
Lowndes and team-mate Jamie Whincup started from 12th and 16th respectively after both Red Bulls missed the top-10 shootout for the first time this season. And with a mandatory tyre stop, Lowndes made the decision to start on softs to split the pair and by lap nine it looked a stroke of genius as he found himself in the lead.
Whincup was stranded in 15th on the hard compound like every other driver in the field bar Lowndes and couldn’t make a move early on. Lowndes meanwhile stretched his lead out to 22 seconds before having to pit and change to the slower hards on lap 33.
As the rest of the field pitted for fuel Lowndes had to make it count on the hards with Ford’s Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom chasing him using softs they’d persevered. But with 11 laps left to run, the struggle on hards proved too hard for Lowndes as he relinquished the lead to a much faster Davison before Winterbottom and Fabian Coulthard also pounced.
“Given both Jamie and I qualified back in the pack we had to run two different strategies to split us up a bit and I think today it worked well,” Lowndes said.
“I was very thankful the race went start to finish without incident and we could attack from the front. Using the softs early really helped us get through the pack, stay out of trouble and get clean air so when we got on the hards we could salvage a good position. And finishing fourth from 12 was a very good result.”
Back in 15th, Whincup was a forgotten man for most of the race but like Lowndes’ VF Commodore, Whincup’s No.1 came alive on soft tyres and he quietly mowed down a whopping nine positions to finish 7th and maintain his championship lead.
“We got a clean run but on the hards we just couldn’t do anything,” Whincup said.
“But on the softs, the car is miles better. We have struggled all weekend on hards – we qualified poorly on hards and struggled in the race. Then we put the softs on and they transformed the car. It just shows how important set-up is. I’ve got the best prepared, best built, fastest car out there but if you don’t get the set-up right you’re mid pack.
“Plan is now to work on the set-up some more and hopefully qualify much better tomorrow.”
Lowndes is now just 135 points adrift of Whincup in the championship race as the Red Bull team prepares to work overnight to correct hard tyre issues in time for qualifying for race two tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, Casey Stoner’s tough V8 Supercars induction has continued after his Development Series race was ruined by tyre failure following contact.
Stoner started 11th and had moved to eighth when his front left gave way.
“Somebody cut across in front of me – they saw an opportunity with a few people going wide in front of us to dive down the inside at turn one only he didn’t look inside to see I was there and he clipped me,” Stoner said.
“A few people went wide at turn one and he went to try and cut up the inside – he went from the outside of the track and straight across in front of me just after the re-start. The front left took some damage and by the time I got to turn three my tire was already punctured.
“It’s disappointing because before the incident we had a pace much higher than where we were. I wasn’t in a rush. Finally we’ve got a good car for the weekend and we haven’t been able to do anything with it.”
Worse yet, Stoner will be forced to start Sunday’s race two from the same position he finished – 29th.
The second 200km main category race will get under way at 3.35pm Sunday, with Stoner contesting two DVS races at 9.35am and 2.05pm. Check the TV schedule here.