Lowndes "sentimental" returning to SMP

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 21/08/2014
  • By V8 Supercars

He was already considered one of V8 Supercars' best with three Championships to his name, but when Craig Lowndes signed with Roland Dane's team for 2005, Triple Eight was an unknown quantity.

Jumping in the Ford Falcon at the season opener that year Lowndes earned two podiums, third Saturday and second on Sunday at the Clipsal 500.

Fast-forward to the year's fourth round and it happened. The final laps were hugely tense for those in the garage, but Lowndes sailed across the line two seconds ahead of Marcos Ambrose, leaving team boss Roland Dane to declare it was "the end of the beginning".

Lowndes even came runner-up to the Championship that year, with Russell Ingall clinching it at Phillip Island, 57 points ahead.

Given the history and the nature of the Sydney Motorsport Park circuit - where Lowndes has earned five career wins, more than any other current driver, including his first Australian Touring Car Championship win on debut in 1996 - the Red Bull star is keen to roll out his Commodore this week. He is glad a track that has staged so many great moments is back on the V8 Supercars calendar.

"It's somewhere that's a bit sentimental for me - it was our first Triple Eight win there for me," Lowndes told v8supercars.com.au.

"It's a great memory - to be able to join a brand new team at the time, that's now a very formidable team, but you can say you had their first victory."

While it has featured as the pre-season test circuit for the past two years, aside from a two-race meeting in 2012 - where Lowndes and Jamie Whincup won one race each - you have to go back to 2008 to find it last featured.

But Lowndes believes it has a rightful place on the calendar, labeling it a "drivers' track".

"I'm excited to go back, I think it's a great track - one of those unique circuits with some fast flowing corners, some tight corners, great elevation.

"It's hard on the tyre, so tyre management is going to be very important.

"There's a lot of factors that the circuit creates, that's a good challenge for all of us, so I'm really looking forward to going back."

An adjusted format sees an action-packed Saturday, the teams facing just two 30-minute practice sessions before having to roll out for the standard back-to-back qualifying sessions that morning. Time will be of the essence, with a strong setup essential when teams roll out the cars.

Sunday sees a different challenge, with one set of Dunlop soft tyres thrown in the mix for the 200km race.

"It's always a headache for us to try and maximise car speed on either one of them, then trying to get the maximum out of both of them at once is always extremely hard.

"Again, it's a challenge for all of us, but the track layout, I'm really looking forward to getting back there and hopefully having another victory."

History shows Lowndes knows what it takes to perform at the 3.93km circuit.

And another thing - it's a place where you should get out of Russell Ingall's way!

"Yeah, I think Russell has a love hate relationship with that track!" Lowndes laughed, when reminded of a heated incident between old foes Ingall and Mark Skaife in 2003.

"But it is a driver's track, like Phillip Island - the drivers who drive the cars hard and fast will do well there."

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