Mark Skaife says that he and Craig Lowndes were ‘desperate’ to beat each other during their time together at the Holden Racing Team, driving the then-benchmark outfit to new heights.
Skaife and Lowndes were team-mates for three seasons at the original, Tom Walkinshaw Racing-run HRT, during which time the factory Holden team utterly dominated the V8 Supercars Championship.
Lowndes’ latter two championship wins came in the first two years of that span, before Skaife won the first of three in a row in 2000.
Despite the obvious potential for fireworks as two highly talented drivers vied for supremacy in the best team on the grid, Skaife said that the relationship between the pair was always positive, even if tense.
“I don’t remember there being a time in my career where the level of energy and vigour around beating somebody was as high,” he recalled on the latest episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast.
“We were desperate to beat each other week in, week out, and from a complete team scenario, that drove the team to a new level.
“We were demanding so much of the car, and every single thing, every bit of resource, whatever the latest widget was, it was ‘How does it get onto my car (before his)?’ and that level of competition was extraordinary.
“I can clearly say this: we never had a bad word, absolutely did not have a bad word, but there was a lot of tension.
“We would be desperate to out-qualify each other, then whatever happened in the opening laps of the race, there might have been a bump or whatever, there was certainly plenty of lively chat with Jeff Grech (team manager) over the radio in the day, to either stop us from doing whatever we were doing…”
One example Skaife cites which might have concerned Grech was a race at Eastern Creek, believed to be the third of the weekend at the 1999 round at the Sydney circuit, when he and Lowndes drove each other as hard as they could even when the team had the race won.
“I remember one race, at Eastern Creek, where we just, lap after lap after lap after lap, broke the lap record, and they couldn’t slow us down,” he explained.
“We were just so far in front of the field that it was basically us racing each other to win, which, in the end, isn’t the smartest move from a team perspective, but we were wired that way.
“We just were so desperate to beat each other that it didn’t matter what was going on in the world of sensible car racing, that was way outside the sensible car racing rules, and it was fantastic, I don’t begrudge any of that time.”
Skaife won his first two championships at Gibson Motorsport, but revealed that he in fact had an initially frosty relationship with some HRT crew members who had come from his former team.
“It was a bit weird, because I arrived and a lot of the people that had either left Gibson Motorsport and gone to Holden Racing Team… some of those had left under their own guise or some of those had left because I asked them to leave, so the relationship in some of that was not that great,” he said.
“It took me a while to find my feet and to get those guys back onboard again and to get a sense of loyalty and all those things going, and as time went by it was a really memorable and fantastic part of my career.”
Skaife won the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 for the sixth and final time as a co-driver to Lowndes at Triple Eight Race Engineering in 2010, while Lowndes is now a seven-time victor in The Great Race.
With Triple Eight now the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, and Lowndes co-driving with Jamie Whincup in this year’s Pirtek Enduro Cup, he will have the chance to add an eighth Bathurst win as a Holden factory team driver for the first time in almost 19 years.