RED Bull Racing Australia drivers Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes have put the rest of the V8 Supercars field on notice ahead of next month’s Bathurst 1000 by claiming a one-two finish at the Sandown 500 in emphatic fashion.
A horror weekend in Winton last month saw the Red Bull duo’s championship lead cut dramatically, Lowndes dropping to fourth behind rivals Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom, but the pair made a spectacular return to form in Melbourne to leave Sandown one-two in the championship.
But the race wasn’t without its dramas, Lowndes and Whincup having to overcome a double-stacking in the pits and drive-through penalty respectively to come home ahead of championship rival Davison. At the halfway point it looked a mission impossible to both, but courtesy of some exceptional strategy by the Red Bull Racing Australia crew and some expert driving, the pair ended up making it look easy.
“I don’t know if I’m more excited or relieved – we did it the hard way,” a jovial Whincup said.
“There was a little bit of confusion late in the pit-stop with the driver change and typically, a drive-through is race over but it’s a long race and we had a great car. The car was excellent but I want this race to be known as a Red Bull one-two because the whole team put in a massive effort since Winton to get us back to the podium.”
Typically, Lowndes couldn’t shake his trademark grin but the three-time champion admitted he was a little disappointed to come away without the win after leading for the majority of the second stanza.
“It’s great to be on the podium – any time you get a chance to be on the podium at an endurance race is pretty special, especially under the circumstances,” Lowndes said.
“I’m a little disappointed given the position we were in late in the race but Jamie had a really good car and I basically just had to bring it home.
“The stacking early in the race put Luffy a long way back but it’s a long race and with the multiple safety cars it was a great comeback just to be in contention. Bring on Bathurst.”
Co-drivers Paul Dumbrell and Warren Luff started the No.1 and No.888 car in second and third respectively for the 161-lap endurance race and it wasn’t long before a safety car threw the field into chaos. With four pit-stops compulsory for the race, a yellow flag at lap 20 saw the cars – in first and third – called into the pits and all Lowndes could do was watch on in agony as Luff was forced to wait for Dumbrell’s fuel and tyre stop. It worked a treat for Dumbrell who stretched his lead out to 19 seconds upon his return to the track but saw Luff caught back in the back before finding himself in the dirt courtesy of an Andrew Jones hit.
Come lap 54 when both co-drivers had completed their compulsory laps and Dumbrell was on the verge of lapping Luff before the latter pitted. Lowndes then entered the car with a seemingly impossible task ahead of him but was soon the benefactor of a bittersweet moment for Red Bull Racing Australia.
Race leader Dumbrell was unlucky to leave the No.1 car’s wheels spinning when exiting the car for his driver-change with Whincup at lap 66. It resulted in a drive-through for the championship leader and like Lowndes his race looked all but over.
But somehow, someway, like only Lowndes and Whincup can, the pair found a way to redeem themselves and with pit-lane issues for both Winterbottom and Davison found themselves in first and second after 114 of 161 laps on the back of some exceptional strategy by their engineers and crew.
Lowndes and Whincup then pitted for their final fuel and tyre stops at lap 120 and 121 respectively, setting them up for a sprint to the end. It was a race the endurance king, Lowndes, looked certain to win but Whincup pounced in the dying laps to claim the chequered flag and ahead of Bathurst leads the championship on 2147 points from Lowndes (2051), Davison (2050) and Winterbottom (1981).
The Bathurst 1000 will take place on Sunday, October 13.