Craig Lowndes will retire from full-time Supercars driving at the end of the season.
The fans favourite announced his future plans at the Watpac Townsville 400 despite having a year left on his full-time contract at Triple Eight.
Lowndes will however stay on as a co-driver and ambassador for Triple Eight, which he joined in 2005, from next season.
The three-time series champion also confirmed that he will be joining the Supercars broadcast team in 2019.
Lowndes admitted the decision was the hardest he has had to make in a long and distinguished 21-year full-time career that has seen him win 106 races to date, including six Bathurst 1000 wins, with his latest race win at Symmons Plains in April.
He also become the first driver in the history of the Supercars championship to record 100 race wins, achieving the feat at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway in 2015.
The 44-year-old, who made his full-time Supercars debut in 1996, is currently occupying fourth spot in the championship standings.
Lowndes confirmed that the call to retire a year early was a mutual decision between himself and team owner Roland Dane which was made last month.
“I’ve always said there are two key factors keeping me racing and those are my motivation to keep getting up and doing what I love and my competitiveness, and for me, nothing has changed,” said Lowndes, who has clocked up 652 race starts.
“But at the same time I want to make sure I finish my last full-time season with some strong results in the bag and after this year’s results so far Roland (Dane) and I came to the decision between us that this will be my last full season behind the wheel.
“I feel extremely lucky to have been able to keep doing what I love at a competitive level for such a long time.
“I have to thank my family and friends, the whole team at Triple Eight and KRE, Supercars, my personal and team sponsors and of course the fans for supporting me throughout.
“Ultimately, the fans are the backbone of our great sport and the reason I’ve pulled my helmet on every race weekend, so to them, thank you.
“I definitely won’t be pursuing a drive with any other teams in Supercars.
“I’ll be staying with Triple Eight and I’m looking forward to an exciting new chapter as an ambassador for the team and of course co‑driving with Triple Eight in the enduros.
“I’m also pleased to announce that I’ll be joining the broadcast team, which is something I’m really looking forward to. It’s not the last time you’ll see this grin in pit lane.”
It remains to be announced who Lowndes will partner for the Pirtek Enduro Cup next year.
Triple Eight team boss Roland Dane said the team is also yet to confirm whether it will remain as a three-car squad next season.
“It will be an extremely emotional day on Sunday of Newcastle when Craig heads out for his final race as a full-time driver, but we’re delighted that he’s chosen to stay with Triple Eight next year and hopefully into the future,” said Dane.
“He’s a massive part of the team here and has played a huge role in making Triple Eight what it is today.
“We don’t know yet who Craig’s going to be co-driving with for the enduros – that depends on the structure of the team – but he’s undoubtedly got a few more Bathurst wins in him.”
Lowndes started his career in Formula Ford and Formula Holden before he burst onto the touring car scene in 1994 with the Holden Racing team, doing enough on debut at Sandown as a late call-up to then also replace Swede Rickard Rydell for Bathurst.
He became a household name in that Great Race, launching an audacious pass for the lead on John Bowe in the closing stages and eventually finishing second.
He made his full-time debut in 1996, taking the clean sweep of the Supercars title followed by Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 victories with Greg Murphy.
Pursuing his Formula 1 dream, Lowndes headed abroad in 1997 to contest International Formula 3000 but he returned home after a tough single campaign.
Two more Supercars titles with HRT followed in 1998 and ’99, before he made the massive jump from the factory Holden team to Ford, with the revamped Gibson Motorsport in 2001.
After a second season with the team, which became 00 Motorsport in 2002, Lowndes was on the move again to Ford Performance Racing.
His only victory of three seasons plagued by unreliability came early, at Phillip Island in 2003.
Lowndes moved to Triple Eight in 2005 and hasn’t looked back.
A fourth title has proven elusive, finishing second in the championship sixth times including the controversial finish to 2006 against Rick Kelly.
Bathurst has been a happier hunting ground, including a hat-trick of victories alongside Jamie Whincup which started with the 2006 race immediately after the death of Brock.
Back in a Holden following Triple Eight’s brand switch, Lowndes conquered Mount Panorama again in 2010 with former HRT team-mate Mark Skaife, while victory with Steven Richards in ’15 took his tally to six and a record 13 podiums.
While Lowndes endured his first winless season with Triple Eight last year, there’s still plenty of racing in the popular veteran.
He will be one of the most in-demand co-drivers on the grid, although 888 have locked their favourite son down for at least the foreseeable future.
Craig Lowndes Career Snapshot
|Championship race wins||106 (2nd all-time)|
|Bathurst 1000 wins||6 (3rd all-time*)|
|Bathurst 1000 podiums||13 (1st all-time)|
|Bathurst 1000 poles||2|
|Teams||Holden Racing Team (Walkinshaw) 1994-2000, Gibson Motorsport/00 Motorsport 2001-2002, Tickford Racing (nee: Ford Performance Racing) 2003-2004, Triple Eight Race Engineering 2005-present|
*Including Super Tourer Bathurst 1000 races