Craig Lowndes is a Supercars legend and Australian household name thanks to a full-time racing career that has spanned 22 years and has seen three championship titles, six Bathurst 1000 wins and 106 race wins, but more likely due to his popularity with the fans.
The beaming grin and bushy brows were already familiar in households across Australia, “The Kid’s” memorable Bathurst performances and three Australian Touring Car Championship titles putting him on the map early in his career, when Roland “RD” Dane lured Lowndesy to the relatively new Triple Eight Race Engineering team for the 2005 season. And, boy, did the dividends pay off…
Craig and RD have a colourful relationship that has spanned almost 14 seasons with triumphs, heartache and a whole lot of silverware.
And now, off the back of Craig’s retirement announcement, RD reflects on his journey with Lowndesy and what the future holds for both the racing legend and the team at Triple Eight.
IN THE BEGINNING
It was 2003 when RD acquired the assets of a troubled Briggs Motorsport to form Triple Eight Race Engineering Australia with the express intention of fielding a top-line team in the V8 Supercars Championship.
By 2005, RD had an established team – albeit one with a few too many DNFs in the previous season – but he was still searching for the most important piece of the puzzle – the championship-winning driver.
That driver turned out to be who we’ve all come to know as “Lowndesy”.
“When Craig first drove for us in 2005, he was coming off a few years of not really having the car under him to be able to perform at his best,” reflects RD.
“He was trying to show that he was still a good driver in the category, and he was highly motivated to show that. We gave him the car to do the job and luckily from both our points of view the 2005 car was very effective and he was able to start getting results from it very quickly.”
TRIPLE EIGHT’S MAIDEN VICTORY
In Lowndes’ debut season for his new team in 2005, he claimed Triple Eight’s first ever win and his first victory since 2003 in a spectacular drive at Eastern Creek (now Sydney Motorsport Park).
“He certainly wanted to show he was a force to be reckoned with,” said RD.
“There was a lot of relief on Craig’s part because it showed that he was still a winner and there was satisfaction and relief on Triple Eight’s part, and my part, to show we could win in Australia, as well as in England.
“I still have a very clear recollection of Craig’s father, Frank, coming up to me by the podium to say thank you for giving Craig the equipment to be able to win.”
Lowndesy went on to claim more race podiums and wins that season than the previous four combined, reaffirming his position as a category powerhouse.
“We didn’t chat about it, we were in the middle of the season and we just wanted to get on and do more – we didn’t have to wait very long before we had our next win,” RD continued.
A LONG-STANDING RELATIONSHIP
The relationship between RD and Lowndesy was, and still stands as, a unique one with an extraordinary amount of respect.
Now in its 14th season, it could be described as one of the most revered relationships in Australian motorsport.
“It’s been a long run, we are now in the 14th season. I wouldn’t have known we’d be where we are now and at that stage you would be silly to say you know what would happen when you really didn’t,” said RD.
“We wanted to build a lasting relationship and it’s very satisfying to be able to do that and build something that has lasted as long as it has and been as successful as it has.”
It’s a relationship that would go both ways and, looking back, RD has been most impressed by Craig’s unwavering interactions with his supporters.
“The level of engagement that Craig has kept up over that period with the fans and the team partners is something to look up to and sets an example for everyone around him – that’s what has had an influence on me and everyone else here.”
THE END OF AN ERA
For the best part of the last 20 years, Lowndesy has dominated the Australian motorsport scene – created a name for himself and become one of the most popular drivers in history.
“It is the end of an era, the closing of one chapter, but it’s also the opening of the next one,” continued RD.
“Craig will go on as an endurance driver next year and hopefully beyond with us, and it will bring a big change in the structure somewhere and the DNA of the team.”
For the team, going ahead without Craig in the full-time driver’s seat will be a huge change, but put simply, life goes on.
“Every race we’ve gone to for last 14 years we’ve had Craig there as a full-time driver, so it’ll be different, but that’s what happens. Craig will have the opportunity to do some different things, it’s part of the evolution of the team and evolution of his career.
“The sport is much bigger than any one individual. There have been big individuals in all sports in Australia and around the world over the years who have made some massive contributions, like Craig and Peter Brock in this country.
“But life goes on when you retire – it’s just different eras and different people and changing of the guard, that’s just what happens.”
Bathurst 2006 is likely the most memorable moment for most of the Supercars fraternity and not because of who won the race that year, but because of who it was for.
It was no doubt an emotional one, taking place just weeks after the death of Craig’s racing mentor and “The King of the Mountain”, Peter Brock. Lowndesy went into this one overcome with emotion, winless at Bathurst since 1996 and eager to do his mentor proud. And that he did.
“I think the 2006 Bathurst win and everything that went on around that day was probably the single standout moment for me – it has forever stayed in my memory,” RD reflected.
“Craig was emotional before the race, I wasn’t sure if he really wanted to start the race, however he was the more senior driver at the time, so we wanted him to start rather than Jamie. He said he was fine to do it even though he was grappling with his emotions at the time.
“After the race, having performed at a high level all day, it was a relief to get it out of the way.
“To be able to get the big prize on the day and be the first person to honour Peter Brock and the first Peter Brock trophy was special to him and special to all of us.
“That’s the strongest and biggest memory of our time together.”
Announcing Craig’s retirement was always going to go down in history, so it was only fitting that RD was by his side.
“The decision wasn’t easy. Craig and I discussed it at length and we decided that it was important for both Craig and the team to finish Craig’s full-time driving career on a high,” said RD.
“Craig will have an ambassador role with the team, helping the commercial department as well as co-driving, which I think that will carry on for a while because he certainly can do that for a while.
“He will very much be a Triple Eight team member for some time to come.”
Fear not, Triple Eight and Craig Lowndes don’t stop here.