Craig's Corner: An Adelaide showdown like no other

23 Nov
Craig Lowndes' exclusive Supercars.com column for the 2023 season finale, the VAILO Adelaide 500

This is the 12th exclusive Supercars.com column by Supercars Hall of Famer Craig Lowndes. Seven-time Bathurst winner Lowndes will preview each round of the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship from his own perspective, continuing with this weekend’s season-ending VAILO Adelaide 500.

Like many, I can't wait for this weekend. The VAILO Adelaide 500 is a world-class event, and for the first time, it will be the scene of a Supercars title decider.

Adelaide was the new benchmark challenge in Supercars when it debuted in 1999. It was the biggest test for fitness, mentality, endurance and reliability. The temperatures inside the cabin can be extreme, and the circuit itself, like the Gold Coast, is relentless. You’re constantly changing gears, turning left, turning right, heavy braking, fast corners. The straights aren’t long enough to have a breather, and then you have to deal with Turn 8. You get it wrong on approach, and it can go very bad.

The bravest drivers can make up a lot of time, but if you overstep the line, Adelaide will bite you. It’s high risk, high reward — and that extends to everyone in the pits, whether you opt for two stops or take a punt with three stops.

Drivers will have to do their part, but the crew and strategists will also play a key role. That’s why I love this event — it encapsulates every single part of the team, from drivers, crew and car.

It’s a major test for Brodie Kostecki and Shane van Gisbergen as they ready for their championship showdown. I think both Brodie and Shane will enter the weekend with the same mentality they’ve carried throughout the whole season. There’s risk attached to a change in mentality — a mindset shift can quite easily see your performance go south, and at a circuit like this, you will be punished.

Adelaide requires focus, and if you drop focus, you can easily damage the car or find the wall, and if it’s bad enough, it could put you out of the weekend. Neither driver can afford a misstep. The key is ensuring you recover as best you can on Saturday night, which sets you up for Sunday. Don’t forget that Adelaide’s Sunday winner is also the overall winner of the event, so that’s a race everyone will want to win.

It’s going to be a fascinating weekend, and it’s going to be a big challenge for their mental strength. Brodie is gunning for his first championship, so there’s probably more pressure on him, given he’s also leading the points. Shane, meanwhile, has been there before and won three championships.

Shane hasn’t led the points all season — he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. I expect him to come in all guns blazing, where Brodie will have to play the long game to ensure he brings it home.

I’ve been really impressed by Erebus, who came out in the start of the season punching hard. They flew out of the blocks in the first season of Gen3, taking poles, winning races and putting everyone else on notice. But they did have a mid-season lull, and had to regroup. The strength of Erebus has been their ability to not only regroup, but fight back and reinforce their advantage.

Often you see teams fall into a lull and get stuck in a downward spiral. Then, there’s been the potential distraction of Will Brown moving on to Triple Eight next year, which had the ability to turn the tables. But Erebus has fought through it all, and they deserve to be in a position to win a championship. For Barry Ryan especially, to steer that ship and have Erebus in the box seat, is a credit to him.

Championships aren’t always about winning. It’s also about getting the best out of a bad weekend, or a weekend you aren’t the fastest. Brodie and Shane have been in that position on multiple occasions this season, and it’s a credit to them and their teams for working through that. If they weren’t winning, they’ve been on the podium or in the top five, at worst. That alone is evidence of their mental strength.

It’s the last round of the year, and I expect many drivers to step up and make a statement as we look towards 2024. Matt Payne has come on leaps and bounds towards the end of the season. He has been super fast as a rookie and was quick on the Gold Coast, so I’m sure he will enjoy the weekend.

I’m also keen to watch Broc Feeney, who has had a successful second season and also won in Adelaide last year. Cam Waters and David Reynolds won on the Gold Coast, and there are others — like Chaz Mostert, Andre Heimgartner, Anton De Pasquale and Will Davison — who are knocking on the door of victory lane.

Every driver will want to finish this season on a high, as we’ll be going into 2024 with the unknown of the cars, given they will likely evolve following the upcoming overseas testing. That includes significant wind tunnel work, which has the potential to see further aero changes. Following this, work will continue through Christmas and into the vital pre-season testing.

After nine months on the road and an action-packed season, it comes down to Adelaide. It’s going to be a thrilling weekend, and I’m very proud to be the Fanbassador for this year's event.

Come say g'day, and enjoy the racing!

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