It’s just like 1996 all over again.
They’re the words Craig Lowndes fans having been hoping to hear since the cult figure’s last of three championships in 1999.
And according to the 38-year-old, who famously defected to the dark side in 2001, the VF Commodore has that same familiar feeling of the 1990s Holdens that catapulted him to stardom.
“For me, it’s a great transformation from last year to this year – this car now feels very much like the cars I had way back in the ’90s,” Lowndes says.
“And that’s a very good thing.”
Yeah, yeah, it’s just the same old chat at the start of the new season you might think? Well, engineer Jeromy Moore says think again.
“As we hoped, the car seems to suit Craig more than the old ones,” JJ says.
“Well, it’s probably more so the tyres than the car.
“With the change from 17inch to 18inch, there is a shorter side wall so the tyres don’t flex as much laterally when you load them up, allowing a bit more mid-corner grip, which suits Craig’s style.
“Craig likes more of a car with which he can carry speed into a corner not so much just brake really late and get on the power really hard. That’s more his forte. That’s why he does really well when he drives GT cars at Bathurst. The tyres are actually very similar to that and that suits his style more than last year’s car for sure.”
Ok, Craig, it’s time to see just how well you and JJ really know each other. Is this true?
“Haha. Well, the last time we had independent rear suspension and were able to carry that speed into corners was probably in the early days when we actually ran on a Bridgestone tyre and we had a drive tyre and a steer tyre,” he says.
So far, so good.
“You were able to work with the car and tyres, and for the first time in a long time it feels very much like the touring cars of old for me.
“The tyre and wheel change is a welcome change for me. This car definitely suits my driving style, there is no question about that.
“I’m able to carry speed into the corner where I couldn’t last year, I’m able to trail-brake later and deeper into the corner which again you couldn’t last year.
“To be blatantly honest, this car has suited my driving a style a lot more and a lot better than what I’ve had in the past.”
Correct. Well, there you have it, trend-setters, the speed of the No.888 VF Commodore so early in the season is no fluke. And the man affectionately known as Crackers is confident the good times can continue at Symmons Plains.
And just in case Will Davison is reading, Lowndes is also tipping the Commodores to be even quicker in Tasmania than last year – which hopefully means no hairpin punts…
“Tasmania as a track, I love,” Lowndes says.
“It has that very unique hairpin there and it’s a circuit where you need good horsepower, but just as importantly you need a good, flowing car through that last section at the last part of the track.
“Our cars have produced that in the past and I’m really looking forward to getting down there again this year and seeing what we can do.
“These cars will suit that track much better than what we’ve had in the past.”