Craig's Corner: From NASCAR to Hidden Valley

13 Jun
Craig Lowndes' exclusive Darwin Triple Crown column for Supercars.com

This is the fifth exclusive Supercars.com column by Supercars Hall of Famer Craig Lowndes for the 2024 season. Seven-time Bathurst winner Lowndes will preview each round of the 2024 Repco Supercars Championship from his own perspective, continuing with this weekend’s betr Darwin Triple Crown.

The Darwin round is one that the drivers all love. The sun is out and the climate is great. However, the support that the drivers and teams get is amazing. It's probably one of the biggest events that Darwin holds all year, and as a driver, you really feel the support. Everyone thoroughly enjoys the atmosphere when you come to Darwin.

It’s wonderful to celebrate Indigenous Round and see all the incredible liveries. Every car has got a story to tell. It’s a great time to be a Supercars fan, and a great opportunity for the sport to showcase more of who and what we are as a country.

Obviously Will Brown and Cam Waters will be ones to watch this weekend. When you get an opportunity to drive something that you're not used to, it’s a really good thing in a lot of respects. You're thinking and focusing on different elements of a race car and how to go fast, not just sort of being pigeon-holed in a Supercar. I think it keeps your mind fresh when you're thinking about a set-up of a different car. They might even bring back some ideas that they've learnt over there, or some things they’ve improved on.

Any time a driver can to get their backside in a race car and drive as much as they can is always a positive, because you keep your skills up by driving. It doesn’t matter what it is or where it is. Cam and Will are coming back from the States driving in NASCAR, so they’ll pretty sharp. There's no doubt that the cars have got some similarities, but they are different in the way that they handle and the way they operate.

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I don't think the jet lag will be a big issue for them. I think both of them are pretty wise to that side of it. I have no doubt they'll hit the ground running when they get to Darwin. Look at Brodie last year, he won all three races at The Bend just two days after flying back from the States!

Perth was telling, with two Ford teams powering back into contention. Cam was obviously quick and got a win, while Chaz Mostert was the one to beat all weekend. However, some teams have tested included since Perth, so there'll be a few people who could theoretically make a gain.

But you can't underestimate the confidence someone gets from a positive weekend. Confidence will be high for Chaz and WAU, and rookie Ryan Wood as well, who scored a front row and was one corner away from a podium. It was also great for the Ford fans to get some results and some positivity. The scary thing is that there’s more to come if other teams get it right. Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale were very strong on the Sunday, while I still don’t think Penrite Racing have shown their full hand yet.

One driver I have my eye on is Broc Feeney. He’s an interesting one for me. He didn’t have a great round in Perth, and dropped points to Will Brown. However, he was brilliant in Darwin last year. I have no doubt that Broc will want to bounce back, and this is a place he enjoys. Broc needs to stamp his authority on being in the championship hunt. And to do that, he needs to not only beat Will, but start winning races.

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I'll also give a shout out to my mate Cooper Murray, who is making his Supercars debut in the Triple Eight wildcard this weekend. We recently had an enjoyable test day, and he is very determined. I can't wait to see what he can take away from this weekend before we link up for the enduros.

This weekend is going to be one of the hottest rounds that the drivers encounter. Fitness is going to be paramount. Hydration is everything. I remember coming here for the very first time in 1998, and we really had to step up fitness and hydration. Cars might change, but bodies don’t — you have to prepare, and look after yourself — otherwise, you’ll be in a world of hurt, and you won’t get a result.

The heat is everywhere, even when you’re driving slowly on the warm-up lap on the way to the grid. Then, you're sitting there for 15-20 seconds waiting for the field to complete the grid. By then, temperatures start to creep up, the cars get very hot, and you start the race in extreme conditions. It’s tough.

Mentally, dealing with extreme heat in the cars is a challenge, but you have to be up to it. Teams need to make sure they do everything they can to keep drivers’ core temperatures down. Drivers have sophisticated refrigerated cool suit systems now, which don’t freeze up like the old dry ice boxes we used to have. You need to get airflow into the car, and the footwell is going to be extremely hot. Then, there’s plucking gears, and slamming your foot on the brake pedal with force. It’s hot and hard work!

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I had a cool suit fail at the Gold Coast, which is almost just as bad when it comes to heat. When that goes bad, it goes really bad. You start overheating, your mind wanders, your reaction time slows, and you could find yourself in big trouble very quickly. Events like Darwin are about those fundamental little things that could quite easily go wrong, but will have a big effect on the outcome.

Keen-eyed fans will have seen I had a crack at the Finke Desert Race last weekend, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was a rookie going in, in a sense, because it was my first attempt at Finke. But having my navigator Dale Moscatt with me really put my mind at ease. I think he had like almost 200 pages of notes each way! So to have that experience sitting beside me was really impressive.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we were after, and it was disappointing in the end. But in two of the three stages, we had very positive outcome and that was great for us. The program was two years in the making with General Motors, and they were very happy with what we achieved. If there was a opportunity to have another crack at it, I'd definitely put my hand up for it.

The reception from the fans was amazing. Someone actually said to me, ‘Do we need to replace the horn?’ And I said, ‘Why is that?’ And he said, ‘All the reports are you were tooting and honking and waving to the people’. He was right — there were banners and flags and all sorts of things going on down the track!

It was a great week and I loved it, and now I’m keen for Supercars action in Darwin. Hopefully I see you there!

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