Winton in 2009 was the first time the Dunlop soft compound tyre was used at a V8 Supercar event in what was a mixed, hard and soft, tyre meeting.
Now, the entire weekend’s racing at the Victorian circuit runs on the soft tyre, as part of the 60/60 Super Sprint format.
In 2009, Craig Lowndes dominated in a Ford Falcon FG, winning both Saturday’s 33-lap and Sunday’s 66-lap races, with his team pushing the envelope by starting the second race on the soft tyre he had finished the previous race on.
At the time it was considered a masterstroke; and no-one else thought of it.
Ahead of the Winton 360, next on the calendar, Lowndes spoke to v8supercars.com.au about that first time on the soft tyre and how it has changed strategy in the sport.
“Whenever you’ve got a dual compound race weekend you’ve got to be very mindful of where the soft tyre will take you,” Lowndes said.
“Thinking back, I don’t think we had the opportunity to practice on the soft tyre until we were racing on it, so we had to estimate what the extra grip was going to give you and what it was going to do for the car set-up, and make the right decisions.
“We ultimately did, that weekend.
“I’ve always been a fan of the soft tyre – it’s a tyre you have to look after, manage and try and extract the best out of.”
Using the same tyre again was a surprise. But was it planned, or something they decided after Saturday?
“I think it was definitely talked about before we approached the weekend,” Lowndes said.
“But it was one of those factors – it cemented our decision as we went through the weekend and it was more likely we could rerun the tyre and get a benefit from it.
“We did adjust our game plan and strategy throughout the weekend to suit what was best, and definitely back then it was the perfect decision.”
Lowndes was in the box seat in Saturday’s race and led teammate Jamie Whincup home for an emphatic one-two for the team. At that stage, Lowndes hadn’t won a V8 Supercars race since the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 the year prior (though Winton’s first was race five of the season).
Sunday Lowndes had some luck with a Safety Car appearance. Paul Dumbrell battled hard, but eventually managed fourth, behind Lowndes, Mark Winterbottom and Garth Tander.
Lowndes left the weekend seventh in the Championship; Whincup was first, on his way to his second consecutive title.
“The Saturday went to plan, it was pretty straight-forward,” Lowndes said of the race.
“The Sunday with the Safety Car definitely gave us an advantage in a way. We knew we were comfortable enough to get on the soft tyre and last the length of that stint, where others were pushed beyond their limits. That was a big key factor for us, being able to look after the soft tyre longer than everyone else.”
Lowndes agreed teams have had to be braver with car set-up and adjustments since the introduction of the soft tyre.
“I think we’ve found in the past, the soft tyre gives more life than what you expect, if you look after it. You can be very quick for a short period, or quick for a long distance if you manage the tyre right. And that’s why I like the tyre – it gives you the best of both worlds.”
However, the three-time Championship driver admitted it took the team some time to understand what was a new variable.
“Everyone was burning up the tyre quite quickly,” he said. “It took a little bit to get our head around it – once we understood what to do with the car set-up and how to use the tyre, it was a great ally for us. We could generally get the tyre to last longer than everyone else, get the extra lap time and speed out of it.”
Heading into the Winton 360, Lowndes looks forward to hitting the circuit he grew up racing on. “I’ve had great results there in the past, I grew up in Formula Fords and essentially it was my club track, so I’ve got great memories of Winton.
“Fundamentally you have to qualify in the first couple of rows, it’s hard to pass on.
“I’m quietly confident, really looking forward to getting there… I’ve generally had great battles throughout the races and this year won’t be any different – The Car of the Future has definitely thrown up a huge mix of results.”