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Craig's Corner: What a teammate title battle comes down to

Supercars
03 Jul
Craig Lowndes' exclusive NTI Townsville 500 column for Supercars.com
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This is the sixth 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 NTI Townsville 500.

We’re back in the North Queensland sunshine and back in Townsville, which is a fan-favourite event and a fun track for drivers.

The Townsville circuit, I've got to say, is up there with the most challenging tracks we race on. It’s mechanically tough on cars because of the nature of the brutal kerbs. Attrition is high, and you can suffer failures.

These are tough races — 88 laps is a long day. The key is to get a good flow, especially through that back section. From Turn 3 to Turn 9, it’s all about flow. But, you're just leaning on that left hand rear tyre a lot, so it’s a balancing act. That's where, as drivers, you've got to be very mindful of managing expectations.

You can’t take too much out of the tyre too early in the stints. It's great when you've got good rubber under you, because you feel confident. But then it disappears so quickly, and that’s when you can go from a hero to a zero. It can come back to you towards the end of the race, because when the sun sets, the temperature drops, the track evolves and the pace of the race does somewhat increase.

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You have got three good really passing opportunities at this track — Turn 2, Turn 11 and Turn 13. They’re big braking corners, and with that comes drama. We've seen a lot of incidents, especially in the closing stages of races.

Turn 13, the final corner, is a classic over/under corner. You can get up the inside, but you've got to make sure that you somewhat block in the middle part of the corner. If you don’t, the other car can get down the inside to the run of the chequered flag. Could a race be decided that way this weekend?

Strategy plays a big part and how much fuel load you put in at what point of the race, and I've no doubt that teams will be looking at where they position the cars and how much fuel they take on at each stop.

Another thing to consider is how tight the pit lane is, and how congested it can be. That's going to be really important for teams to play the right strategy at the right time, so you can get in and out of the pit bay cleanly.

When it goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. We’ve seen cars sideways. We've seen some close encounters. We've even seen cars on fire!

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There’s also a bit of rain forecast, which could throw the form guide out the window. Remember the chaotic wet race in 2019, and how it caught a few drivers out — even Whincup crashed out, and he won there a record 12 times!

With these Gen3 cars, it could be uncharted waters for teams and drivers because they just really haven't experienced those conditions at this track. It is a street circuit, but it’s a hybrid layout, with 70 percent of the track a permanent circuit. White lines, manholes, you name it — there’s something out there to catch drivers out, and that is amplified when it’s wet!

No doubt, you can’t take your eye off the two Triple Eight teammates fighting for the championship. Despite the great results, that situation is definitely tough on a team, because obviously they've got to manage the expectations of both drivers.

Having been part of the Triple Eight family for so long, I can say it simply just comes down to who has the fastest car on the day.

But, I had a quick look back at last year's race at Townsville, where there were team orders for Broc and Shane van Gisbergen. At some point, there will be an interesting dynamic within the team, especially when you've got two drivers running first and second. I encountered it with Jamie. You’re pushing hard to win, and drivers must get the best out of themselves, the engineer and the car.

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We’re back on the Soft tyre, and I think Chaz Mostert will go into this weekend with some confidence. I think Cam Waters will too. They were both fast in Perth on the Soft tyre, and while one-lap pace eluded them in Darwin, they still moved forward in the races.

One team I’ve got my eye on is PremiAir Nulon Racing. James Golding was brilliant in Darwin. He definitely showed that he can run at the front, and with the brains trust behind James and Tim Slade in Ludo Lacroix and Romy Mayer, they’ll be looking to capitalise on their momentum that they created at Darwin.

Anton De Pasquale also won here last year. He knows how to get it done here with these cars. After a terrible race on the Saturday, was the benchmark on the Sunday. It proved that whatever you dish up on Saturday, you've got to hit the reset button for Sunday morning.

No matter what happens on Saturday, you have to come back on Sunday, get back out there, qualify up the front and race hard. After after 88 laps and 250 tough kilometres on Saturday, it’s always a big challenge.

I’m really looking to seeing how it all plays out!

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