10 facts about Lowndes' incredible debut season

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 27/08/2021
  • By James Pavey, Pics by AN1 Images

Season 2021 marks 25 years since Craig Lowndes won the Australian Touring Car Championship as a rookie.

In 1996, of the drivers in this year’s Supercars field, Anton De Pasquale and Todd Hazelwood were four months old, Andre Heimgartner was seven months old and series leader Shane van Gisbergen was six years old.

Will Brown, Brodie Kostecki, Bryce Fullwood, Jake Kostecki, Zane Goddard and Jack Smith hadn’t even been born.

Lowndes burst onto the scene as a rookie at Mount Panorama, when he famously fought John Bowe for the win.

With Bathurst then a non-championship event, Lowndes made his full ATCC debut in 1996.

Even then, despite his Bathurst heroics in 1994, few would have anticipated the legacy he would build.

To mark the 30th anniversary of a debut that changed the course of Australian motorsport, Supercars.com has dug out 10 facts about Lowndes’ record-breaking season.

A record which nearly stood the test of time

Round win on debut

Lowndes won a staggering 16 races in 1996, from 10 rounds and 29 race starts.

For so long, it seemed Lowndes would hang onto the record.

Ironically, in his first season as a retiree, Lowndes' marker was eclipsed by Scott McLaughlin in 2019.

McLaughlin won 18 of the 2019 season's first 25 races, including the Bathurst 1000.

He didn’t win the first race

Lowndes opened the season with second in Race 1

Lowndes won two of three races at Eastern Creek to win the round overall.

It was defending champion John Bowe who won Race 1, but Lowndes finished second.

Nor did he get pole on debut

Lowndes launched from the ideal spot for Race 3

Lowndes didn't get pole at Eastern Creek. That was taken by Bowe, but a HRT car did lead the opening laps of the race.

Peter Brock beat Bowe off the line to lead the first few laps, only to drop down the order after a spin.

He didn't start every race

He won Race 1, but didn't get much further than that

Lowndes started 29 of the season's 30 races.

The one he missed? The Phillip Island finale. He won Race 1, but Lowndes and Bowe ran off at the high-speed Hayshed early in Race 2.

Both cars were crunched, and both drivers missed the start of Race 3.

The enduro double

Lowndes and Greg Murphy won the Sandown and Bathurst endurance races, which were held after the 1996 championship season.

It was redemption for Lowndes, who qualified on pole for the 1995 Bathurst 1000, only for a oil pressure issue to end his day early.

It would be the last time until 2007 that two drivers would do the Sandown-Bathurst double.

Cometh the man, Lowndes combined with Jamie Whincup to repeat the feat in 2007.

The youngest champion

At the non-championship event at Albert Park

Lowndes was aged just 21 years, 11 months and 11 days when he was crowned 1996 champion.

He would win the Bathurst 1000 as a 22-year-old, then becoming the youngest winner of the Great Race.

A 20-year-old Rick Kelly took the record away from him in 2003.

Mr Consistent

Lowndes at Calder

Lowndes won six of 10 rounds of the 1996 championship, claiming his maiden title in the process.

Such was his consistency across the year, that he won at eight of the season’s 10 events.

He only failed to win at the Bathurst and Oran Park sprint rounds, which were swept by John Bowe and Peter Brock respectively.

The VR Commodore king

Lowndes won six rounds in 1996

Correct to last month’s WD-40 Townsville SuperSprint, the VR Commodore - which was Holden’s weapon of choice in 1995 and 1996 - is 14th on the all-time wins list.

VR Commodores were steered to 11 round wins, with Lowndes responsible for six of them alone in 1996.

The VR model won 27 races, Lowndes again the king with his 18.

Most wins in succession

The streak ended at Mallala

A record that still stands to this day is Lowndes’ win streak.

Lowndes won a remarkable eight straight races across the Lakeside, Barbagallo and Mallala events.

His future Triple Eight teammates would create seven-race win streaks, Jamie Whincup in 2008 and Shane van Gisbergen in 2021.

Whincup won in Bathurst, Surfers Paradise and Bahrain to close out the 2008 season.

Van Gisbergen won last year’s Bathurst 1000, before he opened season 2021 with six wins in Bathurst, Sandown and Tasmania.

Two all-time records are commenced

Lowndes' run of starts began in 1996, only being absent in 1997

This year’s Repco Bathurst 1000 will be Lowndes’ 299th round start and 674th race start.

Both are all-time records, runs which began at Eastern Creek in 1996.

Garth Tander is next on the list; last year’s Bathurst winner is on 286 round starts and 640 race starts.

Lowndes was the first driver to start 650 races, a mark he achieved in his final full-time season in 2018.

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