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Winton debrief: a cause for optimism

“It’s a circuit where we don’t seem to hit the money.” Those were Craig’s words after his Winton podium on Sunday and they may possibly be the understatement of the year.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh seeing as back in the day (pre-Car of the Future) Triple Eight clocked up eight races wins from 18 starts between 2004 and 2012, but since then top five results have been as rare as an angry face on a Craig Lowndes tweet.

It’s true, this recent string of poor form had the team almost dreading the trip to Winton, as the engineers spent every waking minute – which was all 1,440 of them in a day seeing as they’re not allowed to sleep – puzzling over squiggly lines and the mechanics were prescribed stress management classes to best cope with said engineers’ demands.

Therefore, when Lowndesy and JDub crossed the line in third and 10th respectively on Sunday, the Red Bull Racing Australia garage partied like it was 1999. And by partied we actually mean made the two hour drive to Melbourne airport and passed out on the flight home. Details, details.

It’s been suggested in the aftermath that to truly shake the “Winton hoodoo” we should have won at least one race. On one hand, we are flattered as this is the level that has come to be expected of us – in the wise words of Ricky Bobby’s estranged dad, “if you ain’t first, you’re last”. On the other though, we well and truly realise that every team in pit lane has raised their game, and when the competition is cosier than the Walkinshaw boys over Saturday night dinner, our Winton results deserve a cheer when we know we’re yet to hit our season best.

Despite being so far off the pace he might as well be driving a golf buggy in his opinion, Jamie was in a pretty similar position this time last year. With two race wins and two pole positions to his name already this season, it’s not all bad, but we’re well aware there’s a mountain of work ahead if we’re going to challenge the Eiffel 65 gang next door.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. What’s not to love about the Darwin event? Not only is there a 99.9% chance of warm weather (us Queenslanders are still thawing out from a stunner of a weekend weather-wise in Winton), but it’s Lowndesy’s birthday as well. Cake, anyone? Oh, and if you read the press, Hidden Valley is also where our 2014 campaign really kicked off.

With five weeks until we head up north, every team member has had his or her social life put on hold, individual diet plans have been drawn up with the aim of enhancing brain power and maximum physical output (it’s mainly just increased Red Bull consumption) and the pit crew’s personal training sessions have been increased to twice daily. And that’s all just to make sure we’re bikini body ready for Darwin.