Confidence and momentum
- By Kassie Gadeke
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Craig Lowndes says all he can do this weekend is stay confident and drive fast.
The Red Bull racer is fighting Mark Winterbottom for what would be his fourth Championship, but with a 179-point gap to close over the three races, it will be a challenge.
Ever positive, Lowndes believes his team has the momentum and is fighting for both the drivers' and teams' championships at the Coates Hire Sydney 500, with just 71 points separating Red Bull from leading team Prodrive.
While Prodrive was strong early in the season, Lowndes believes there has been a shift since his Bathurst win. He and teammate Jamie Whincup have six of the last nine races, with PRA’s last victory 10 races ago at Sandown.
“I think from Bathurst onwards, to be honest, the momentum has swung our way,” Lowndes said.
“We’ve gone to the Gold Coast, New Zealand, we’ve come to Phillip Island, so we go into the last round with a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum behind us.
“There are two things still up for grabs and we’re going to fight hard for them.”
The concrete-lined Sydney Olympic Park circuit can bite hard. Lowndes was reminded of that last year, when a qualifying crash smashed his Holden Commodore and left him nursing a rib injury across the races.
But he won’t be backing off this year, especially with the sniff of a championship. On Sunday after Phillip Island, Lowndes said the title was Frosty’s to lose – he knows a strong performance on Saturday in Sydney was crucial.
“We’ll just take it for what it is, but being a street circuit it’s high risk – and of course we’ve got nothing else to lose to go fast,” he said.
Unusual weather has played a part in the big finale before – from scorchers testing drivers’ stamina, to cascading rains wiping out the race.
This time the forecast predicts mid-20s and fine, but in the case of some rain, teams and drivers will have to play it safe.
“Of course we’re all in the same boat, we’ve got to be very smart,” Lowndes warned.
“Being a circuit the way it is structured, you can have it wet one corner and dry at another.”
For teammate and six-time title winner Jamie Whincup, it is different being out of the hunt at the final round. He took the Championship win at Phillip Island last season – but this time around is not in contention.
Battling for the teams’ title is important to him, and Whincup admitted just how hard racing the streets of Sydney could be, concluding a season that began back in February.
“It’s a tough event – you well and truly know you’ve done a full hard year of V8 Supercar racing come Sunday night at Sydney,” Whincup said.
“Hopefully we’ve got some trophy to take home.”
Almost all of Whincup’s trophies have been awarded in Sydney, the street circuit having staged the grand finale since 2009.
One title was lost there in 2010 to James Courtney, after inclement weather threw a spanner in the works.
Whincup knows just how quickly things can turn south in Sydney and warns the results can’t be predicted.
“Sydney’s huge – anything can happen,” he said.
“We’re giving ourselves an opportunity – no more, no less.
“We’ll prepare as well as we can to go out there and fight hard to the last lap.”
Either Winterbottom or Lowndes will be the first man since ’10 to end Whincup’s runs at the Championship. He was going for his fifth consecutive title this season.