THREE-time V8 Supercars champion Craig Lowndes escaped mass carnage and a first-lap pile-up of twisted metal on Sunday to claim victory in Darwin for Red Bull Racing Australia.
After a third-place finish in the first race of the day, Lowndes started a position better in the second race and got off to a flying start behind pole-sitter Dave Reynolds as chaos ensued behind the pair. Reigning champion and series leader Jamie Whincup started from an uncharacteristic ninth position and barely avoided the 12-car pile-up that sparked from the very first corner, where a bunched field was travelling in excess of 180km/h.
The pile-up saw a red flag deployed immediately and from the re-start – less seven cars – Lowndes resumed his second position and pitted immediately for soft tyres in the reduced-lap race. Whincup followed suit on the very next lap and jumped three positions in a sharp Red Bull Racing Australia pit stop only to be pinned with a drive-through penalty for spinning his wheels in the pit bay – the reigning champion finished 19th as a result.
Lowndes however, claimed the lead on lap two and from a safety car the very next lap led home the pack in an 18-lap sprint to the finish, narrowly holding off a fast-finishing Mark Winterbottom.
“What a race,” the relieved No.888 Holden driver said.
“That start, what happened behind us was crazy and we knew straight away it was going to be a reduced race. We got straight on the softs and went out thinking it would be a 16-lap race knowing from the tyre life we had this morning that we’d be fine. But I think we pushed a bit hard and burnt the rears up quite quickly and with that Frosty was pouncing.
“I knew he’d come but I thought we’d be able to hold the gap. Then the tyres went really quickly the last laps and wow, it was a close one. We’re very happy to get away with a win.”
Earlier in the day the team was hit by qualifying woes, Whincup and Lowndes starting race two from an unusual fifth and 10th respectively. Regardless, Lowndes made use of the speed his Holden VF Commodore had all weekend to slice through the pack and claim a narrow third to James Courtney and winner Mark Winterbottom. Whincup, who struggled with minor set-up difficulties, finished where he started – in fifth.
“We were very lucky to stay clear of the chaos there in race two, especially considering where we started from and then we got the drive-through,” Whincup said.
“We had our challenges this weekend and we’ll go away somewhat disappointed. But the car was definitely better in the last race despite the penalty and I’m absolutely rapt for Craig.
“It’s an off day for us but we came away with a win and some points from race two. So we’re a little disappointed but as a team, it was a solid weekend for Red Bull Racing Australia.”
Whincup (1423) and Lowndes (1264) leave Darwin No.1 and No.2 in the championship respectively, having each claimed a race win in the Top End.