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Craig's Corner: The race everyone wants to win

Supercars
13 Sep
Craig Lowndes' exclusive column for the Sandown 500
4 mins by Craig Lowndes
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This is the ninth 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 Penrite Oil Sandown 500, where he will race a Triple Eight wildcard with Zane Goddard.

Like many, I’m delighted to have the Sandown 500 back. It’s such an important race in our history, and it restores a big tradition — the Sandown 500, followed by the Bathurst 1000.

But don’t be fooled — everyone says it’s a lead-in to the Great Race, but the Sandown 500 is a race everyone wants to win. It has a rich history of winners, and I’ve been lucky to have won six times myself.

I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel again, and I've worked really well with Zane this year. We’ve had some very strong test days, and we have a very similar reading and feel of the car.

Whincup: Everyone wants a Sandown 500 crown

It’s so important to have two drivers that speak the same language, and for both of us, like others, it’s a brand-new car. The test days have been really useful to understand the car. I’ve spent much of the year listening to other drivers and what they’ve learned about the new cars, so it’s been great to learn first hand.

There are many things about the Gen3 cars that I’ve had to get used to — it’s the first time I’ll race a car without anti-roll bars inside the cabin. It’s very important for driver and engineer to find a set-up that can work over a long race distance.

I’ve always enjoyed endurance racing. There’s so much happening, so much strategy, and so many variables. With new partnerships, it’s so important to get all the fundamental things right. Zane and I are similar height, so the ergonomics of the car are very close. Driver changes will be a big challenge — they require more effort to get in and out of these cars than the previous car, given the lower roofline.

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There are many challenges — but it’s the same for everyone. In these races, one percenters can trip you up, be it a slow driver change, seat belt problems, fuel nozzle issues, brake pad changes, tyre changes. These are the little things teams have to execute under pressure, because it can make or break your day.

It’s a unique situation for Zane and I — being a wildcard, we’ll be one of the first garages, so we’ve had to think about how to fast track things for pit stops. Things like how quickly we can loosen belts, remove the radio plug and helmet fan. Compared to other teams, we don’t have the luxury of time trundling down pit lane, so we’ll have to be up to the task.

10 years on: Lowndes and Whincup fight for Sandown glory

Sandown and Bathurst will have a major influence on the championship. They’re big days that offer big points — 300 for the winner — but can lose a huge amount of ground if things go wrong. I’m looking forward to seeing how the championship contenders approach the weekend. Brodie Kostecki has a handy margin, but will Erebus Motorsport play if safe, or go on the attack? Knowing Shane van Gisbergen, there’s no playing it safe — he will go all out attack. If you have a fast car, it will take care of itself. But if you don’t, you need to think of other ways to maximise points.

Then, there’s the co-driver factor. Experience plays a big role in these races, and there are so many competitive pairings. Brodie has the trustworthy David Russell with him, while Shane hasn’t raced with Richie Stanaway before. Broc Feeney and Jamie Whincup will be strong, while Will Brown will be keen to make up for lost ground alongside Jack Perkins after a difficult round at The Bend. Also don’t discount Chaz Mostert and Lee Holdsworth, and Cam Waters and James Moffat.

We’ll be on the Super Soft tyre, which we’ll have to use to its full capacity. Watch for strategy to be a big talking point. It could be a four or five stop race, and we don’t have compulsory pit stop minimums anymore. Will the tyre last 40 or 50 laps? Possibly, but maybe not. We used to get 60 laps out of a tank of fuel, but that’s different again this year. These are factors teams will have to juggle with the get the best strategy out of the race.

And it wouldn’t be Sandown without a bit of weather. We’ve seen races with all four seasons in one day before, so don’t be surprised if it happens again.

It’s a great time of year, and Bathurst is just around the corner. Let’s go racing!

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