Craig Lowndes has warned against predictions that Red Bull Racing Australia is set to dominate the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
The Queensland-based Holden team put in an ominous display at last month’s Sandown 500, with Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell leading home the sister Lowndes/Warren Luff entry for a one-two finish.
The result came despite a mid-race drive-through penalty to Whincup for a pitlane infringement, and the early loss of several positions for Luff when stacking behind Dumbrell in the pits.
Triple Eight returns to Mount Panorama having won 10 of the last 14 V8 Supercars endurance races, including five of the last seven Bathurst 1000s.
Although the form appears to point strongly in Red Bull’s favour, Lowndes believes that the variety of winners seen during the season to date is proof that Bathurst will be a hotly contested affair.
Twelve drivers from eight different teams tasted victory prior to the start of the Pirtek Enduro Cup.
“We can take confidence from Sandown, but we’d be silly to go to Bathurst underestimating the depth of the competition,” Lowndes told Speedcafe.com.
“FPR (Ford Performance Racing) basically tripped over themselves at Sandown and brought about their own undoing. Both of their cars were very strong early in the race at Sandown and they’re going to be hard to beat at Bathurst.
“You can guarantee that the HRT will perform better at Bathurst than they did at Sandown, and then there are all the other guys like BJR (Brad Jones Racing), GRM (Garry Rogers Motorsport) and Chaz (Mostert, Dick Johnson Racing) that have the potential to win.
“The Mercedes car will be quick again at Bathurst, especially around the fast and flowing stuff at the top of the hill, and their fourth at Sandown will have given them confidence.
“There’s certainly a lot of competition out there that we’re very wary of.”
Lowndes’ biggest competition for a sixth Bathurst crown is arguably set to come from Whincup, who finally stepped out of his team-mate’s Bathurst shadow last year when he took his first Peter Brock Trophy as a primary driver.
Downplaying the competition between the pair, Lowndes stresses that the healthy relationship across the two sides of the garage has been vital in solving some of the squad’s early season woes, and will again be important at Bathurst.
“We’ve worked closer than ever as a team this year to overcome some issues that we were facing earlier in the year on bumpy, street circuit style of tracks,” he said.
“We had a very good test day the week prior (to Sandown) as well which gave us all a better insight into what these cars like.
“Losing Adrian (Burgess, team principal) was unfortunate for us this year but we’ve shown now that we’ve been able to move on and turn it into a positive as a team.
“Sandown probably showed again that the long distance races are collectively one of our strong points. We’re very good at preparing ourselves and predicting what will go on throughout the day.
“We (the #888 car) got stacked at the beginning of the race at Sandown but the team was good enough to open up a new strategy for our car which put us in a good position at the end of the day.
“More than anything we’d love for the pitlane stacking not to come into it at Bathurst this year. Unfortunately it’s something that is part and parcel of having two strong cars and always has the potential to really hurt us.”
Lowndes will head to Bathurst with a fresh engine after time constraints saw upgrades fitted only to Whincup’s car at Sandown.
Although the new motor and a comprehensive final pre-event test last week has Lowndes’ race engineer Jeromy Moore quietly confident, he too is making no bold predictions.
“The car’s fresh, we’ve had plenty of time together to perfect all things necessary and until practice on Thursday, we won’t know any more,” he said.
“(But) we’re definitely better prepared than last year and everyone is motivated and excited at the same time.”
This year will mark Lowndes’ 20th Bathurst 1000 having made a sensational debut in 1994, taking second place after a late-race duel with eventual winner John Bowe.