Craig Lowndes took a straightforward win in Supercars Championship Race 28 for the co-drivers at Sandown as changeable weather caused drama behind him.
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver led all the way in the 20-lap sprint which sets the starting grid for the primary driver race which follows later this afternoon, with Will Brown (#99 Penrite ZB Commodore) second and Garth Tander (#97 Red Bull HRT ZB Commodore) third.
Bryce Fullwood (#7 Plus Fitness Altima) was fourth despite a spin, ahead of Thomas Randle (#5 The Bottle-O Mustang) and Alexandre Premat (#17 Shell V-Power Mustang), the latter of whom was in the thick of the action in what was the middle leg of the broader qualifying process for the Penrite Oil Sandown 500.
Lowndes (#888 ZB Commodore) made an excellent start from the outside of the front row as Premat came under attack from Tander and Fullwood.
Tander moved into second position and Premat slotted into third as Fullwood squirmed under brakes on the very inside of the race track and dropped to fifth, behind Brown.
The two Triple Eight Race Engineering entries ran around three quarters of a second apart until Tander had a couple of slower sectors on Lap 9, and the margin approximately doubled.
Fullwood, meanwhile, was putting Brown under pressure and dived by Car #99 at Turn 4 on Lap 5, releasing him to go after Premat.
What was a sprinkle of rain became far more significant as the race moved past halfway, and Lowndes moved his lead beyond two seconds.
Premat broke into a slide as he exited the final corner of the circuit on Lap 11, allowing both Fullwood and Brown to blaze past.
However, Fullwood ran wide into Turn 1 at the other end of the main straight, which saw him cede third position to Brown, before he spun through Turn 3.
Premat was good enough to step on the anchors and avoid crunching into the Altima, in which Fullwood grabbed first gear and pressed on without loss of position.
That was not the end of the drama for Scott McLaughlin’s French co-driver, as he came under close attention from James Moffat (#55 Supercheap Auto Mustang) and Randle.
Moffat got by Premat into Turn 1 at the start of Lap 14 and Randle followed, but Moffat ran wide on exit and slithered back into the side of Car #5, an impact which saw Car #55 go spinning through the grass.
The whack also damaged Moffat’s steering and the red Mustang turned itself into the fence at Turn 4, before he retired the Chaz Mostert machine.
Further ahead, Brown closed in on Tander and made the pass at the start of Lap 16, then put about a second on the 2016 Sandown 500 winner by the time they reached the chequered flag.
Lowndes, unlike most, had a fairly trouble-free race at the head of the 25-car field.
“Actually, we said at the start of the race it doesn’t matter where we get off the line, just keep it clean, just get on with it, (because) it’s only a short sprint race of a bigger picture,” said the veteran, who won by 2.6s.
“The start was mega, so just got off the line, first sort of four to five laps the car started to come to us; then the rain showers at Turn 1, then it was up Turn 12, it just sort of rotated.
“Being the pioneer, it’s not so easy but once I got that gap on Garth I made a little moment into (Turn) 2 but managed to get through (Turns) 2 to 3 and then it was just keep off the kerbs and keep it straight.”
Fullwood, Randle, and Premat filled fourth through sixth, with the top 10 rounded out by Luke Youlden (#9 Penrite ZB Commodore), Michael Caruso (#6 Monster Energy Mustang), Richard Muscat (#34 Boost Mobile ZB Commodore), and Alex Davison (#23 Milwaukee Mustang).
Tony D’Alberto brought Fabian Coulthard’s #12 Shell V-Power Mustang home in 13th, meaning the Kiwi will start Race 29 from that position later today.
Similarly, Jamie Whincup will share the front row with Anton De Pasquale, while Shane van Gisbergen will be on the inside of Andre Heimgartner on Row 2, for the race which finalises the starting grid for tomorrow’s Sandown 500 proper.
Race start for the primary driver sprint is 1720 local time/AEDT.
Results: Race 28, Penrite Oil Sandown 500
|1||888||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Craig Lowndes||Holden Commodore ZB||20||23:37.5518|
|2||99||Penrite Racing||William Brown||Holden Commodore ZB||20||23:40.1459|
|3||97||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Garth Tander||Holden Commodore ZB||20||23:41.1439|
|4||7||Plus Fitness Racing||Bryce Fullwood||Nissan Altima||20||23:43.1662|
|5||5||The Bottle-O Racing Team||Thomas Randle||Ford Mustang GT||20||23:44.9616|
|6||17||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Alexandre Premat||Ford Mustang GT||20||23:49.3049|
|7||9||Penrite Racing||Luke Youlden||Holden Commodore ZB||20||23:51.9252|
|8||6||Monster Energy Racing Team||Michael Caruso||Ford Mustang GT||20||23:52.4902|
|9||34||Boost Mobile Racing||Richard Muscat||Holden Commodore ZB||20||23:56.8272|
|10||23||Milwaukee Racing||Alex Davison||Ford Mustang GT||20||23:57.0132|
|11||2||Mobil 1 Racing||Warren Luff||Holden Commodore ZB||20||23:57.5767|
|12||18||Irwin Racing||Steven Richards||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:00.5654|
|13||12||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Tony D’Alberto||Ford Mustang GT||20||24:00.6886|
|14||15||Castrol Racing||Dale Wood||Nissan Altima||20||24:01.1753|
|15||3||RABBLE.club Racing||Dean Fiore||Nissan Altima||20||24:01.6084|
|16||8||Fujitsu Racing||Tim Blanchard||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:03.2338|
|17||33||Boost Mobile Racing||Chris Pither||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:03.5924|
|18||22||Mobil 1 Racing||Jack Perkins||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:04.5930|
|19||78||Team Harvey Norman||Alex Rullo||Nissan Altima||20||24:12.3195|
|20||19||Truck Assist TEKNO Racing||Jonathon Webb||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:12.7591|
|21||56||Boost Mobile Kostecki Brothers||Jake Kostecki||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:13.3822|
|22||21||Team CoolDrive||Dean Canto||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:13.9182|
|23||14||Freightliner Racing||Ashley Walsh||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:23.2626|
|24||35||Bigmate Racing||Jack Smith||Holden Commodore ZB||20||24:33.8664|
|DNF||55||Supercheap Auto Racing||James Moffat||Ford Mustang GT||13||15:30.8487|