Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup will split set-up responsibilities for this year’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, the former has revealed.
The duo which won the Great Race together three times straight from 2006 to 2008 are to be reunited at Mount Panorama after Lowndes’ retirement from full-time driving in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
Between them, they boast 42 Bathurst 1000 starts and a combined eight wins in the event (seven for Lowndes and four for Whincup, including three together).
In 2019, Lowndes is the clear secondary driver in a car for the first time since arguably at least as far back as 1997, when he was an enduro driver only for the Holden Racing Team amid a season in International Formula 3000.
While therefore divested of responsibilities in Armor All Qualifying, the Supercars legend will in fact take on the task of working on the race set-up for the #888 Red Bull Holden Racing Team entry.
“Jamie and I, we’ve had a great history here, a great combination,” said Lowndes at a press event in Bathurst.
“I think we’re going to put our best foot forward and he’ll look at a qualifying car, I’ll look at a race car, and hopefully it marries together and we’re on the top step.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of (being) the co-driver, supporting Jamie, because this, as a co-driver, now is one of the biggest moments of sort of the year, to support the main driver, so hopefully we can do a good job.
“He doesn’t have to worry about the race car, he just focuses on his element, I can focus on mine.
“I don’t have the pressure of knowing that I’ve got to qualify the car, that’s him, (and) knowing that he’s got to do the Top 10 Shootout, if we’re in it.”
Having announced his retirement in July last year, Lowndes was touched by the response from the crowd during his cool down lap after what was likely his last Armor All Top 10 Shootout at Bathurst last year.
Nevertheless, the potential honour of leading the field away if Whincup is to qualify at or very near to the front of the field is something that the 45-year-old is still relishing.
“It’s always a special time for the driver, especially in the Top 10 Shootout; all the eyes are on you, make a little mistake, we all comment about it,” explained Lowndes.
“But if you get that perfect lap… there’s nothing (more) gratifying as a driver to be able to stand on the podium at the end of the day, but to be on pole position here to start the race and lead the field away will be really special.”
Whether or not Lowndes leads the race into Hell Corner on Lap 1 is contingent not only on where Whincup qualifies, but also who starts the car, a decision which has not yet been made.
While there is no strong tendency regarding entries’ choices of starting driver at Bathurst, unlike the other enduro races, Lowndes will almost certainly be in the foreign position of not taking the chequered flag.
The last time Lowndes was not assigned the final stint was his last year paired with Whincup, in 2009, and he predicted he will experience nerves in the garage when that time comes next month.
“(We) don’t know yet (who will start), but guarantee Jamie will finish the race, so that for me will be very interesting, standing in the garage, very different to what I’ve faced in the last sort of 10, 15 years, being the finishing driver,” he noted.
“The nerves are going to be there and when you’re outside the race car, you just don’t know the elements.
“When you’re in those sort of closing stages of the race, as a race driver you’re listening to the car, the vibrations, the smells, noises…
“Everything and anything that you think might go wrong with the car, you’re thinking about it, so for me I’m going to be more nervous in the garage than what I would be behind the steering wheel.”
Practice 1, for all drivers, starts on Thursday, October 10 at 0955 local time/AEDT.
Triple Eight Race Engineering will hold its pre-Bathurst test at Queensland Raceway this coming Monday.