By 2002, master and apprentice Peter Brock and Craig Lowndes were on opposite sides of the V8 Supercars divide.
Lowndes was in his second year with Ford, fighting to drag competitive results out of a less than class-leading 00 Motorsport Falcon AU.
Brock meanwhile was the figurehead for a new ‘Team Brock’; a rebranded Rod Nash Racing that fielded a single Commodore for Craig Baird.
At the Canberra 400 in June, Motorsport News magazine’s Phil Branagan organised for Brock to interview Lowndes, and the result was as captivating to read today as it was then.
The conversation flows through a range of topics, including Lowndes’ time as teammate to Juan Pablo Montoya, the ups and downs of V8s, connecting with fans, and Brock’s weirdest autograph experience…
PETER BROCK: Where do we start? Craig Lowndes … year 2002 … going into 2003. Where are we at?
CRAIG LOWNDES: Actually, we’re going alright.
PB: ‘We’ the team?
CL: We the team, yeah.
We had good test on Monday, doing some suspension stuff, and we had a really good run.
It was our third day, but probably our second really serious test day. So we’re pretty happy.
2003 will be different – new car, like yourself.
PB: That’s right. The eternal optimist – you’ve always got to look to next year, right?
PB: If things aren’t going right now …
CL: You look forward.
PB: Well, you say, “next time it will be better!”
CL: Exactly! (laughter)
PB: But nothing changes like that, does it?
CL: No, it doesn’t, but we’re pretty happy with where we are at this point. We’d like to be winning races, though.
PB: When you were doing F3000 races in Europe, if I had said the same thing to you about two-thirds of the way through the year, you probably would have said the same thing: ‘Things are getting better’.
CL: Well, they did get better! I actually got an engineer, I got a couple of mechanics …
PB: And you spoke the lingo and everything!
CL: Yeah, I learnt how to freeze it and move it and shake it … actually, that was a good year.
Dealing with Montoya actually helped me deal with a lot of things back here after I returned.
PB: In retrospect, everyone has realised that Montoya – your F3000 teammate – was a bit of a weapon, so they’d probably sit back and say, ‘Craig had a lot of difficulties that year, a lack of support’, so the results were probably better in retrospect than a lot of people thought they were.
CL: Up until that point he was a completely different teammate to anything that I’d ever had. There was yourself and Mark … well, Mark hadn’t really come on the scene at that stage. Montoya was a person who was very determined.
PB: Did he play mind games?
CL: Not really. Well, it didn’t work on me if he was trying!
PB: As far as you were concerned, he was just some Colombian.
CL: He was a very interesting person, very highly strung, very determined …
PB: When he sits down, does his left knee go like … (jiggles left knee) like Brad Jones, or …
CL: Actually, he wasn’t that bad! (laughter). He was pretty dedicated, and he’s where he wants to be now.
PHIL BRANAGAN: Can I butt in here?
PB: No, you can’t. Who’s running this show?
Phil: I was going to ask about the mentor role. Montoya wasn’t going to be a mentor for Craig in F3000, but back here, you filled that role…
PB: The first time I took particular notice of Craig’s career was in 1993, with the Formula Fords. Craig had a huge budget, and he had top machinery, and he just had it all happening. So he bludged everything he could! (Laughs).
Race tape …
CL: Mr Sheen! I remember Rick Wyatt, who now works in HRT but used to be part of Peter’s original team. I remember every race weekend going up and borrowing a can of Mr Sheen because my Formula Ford wasn’t clean enough.
PB: That was a good era because, whenever you talk to young kids nowadays about how you go about ‘doing it’, you explain that you’ve got to get a respect for the craft, and you’ve got to go through the hard yards.
It’s like being a blues singer – you’ve got to actually ‘do it’ so you can do it properly.
CL: It’s a pity, because those days are gone, those days of prepping and building your own car and then driving it …
PB: But why, Craig? Why should it have gone? Is it because you can’t get the staff, or …
CL: Yeah, I think it’s just got too commercial.
PB: What about other categories?
CL: Well, even in Formula Ford now, they’ve got transporters, they’ve got team mechanics … I’m not saying doing it the way we did it is wrong – and you can still do it – but I think it is a lot harder for the individual to do it that way.
PB: Yeah. And possibly you won’t get the return for the sponsors, or on the track, unless you’ve got a few bells and whistles.
PB: It doesn’t change your mind, though. The mental approach remains the same.
PB: Despite all the computer embellishments – I should say the backup – that says, ‘This is what I’m doing and here’s the computer showing it all’, the mindset to succeed I don’t think has changed.
CL: No, it hasn’t.
PB: No. And that’s the thing that’s very hard to get through to the observers of the sport, who tend to make it into a technical exercise.
It is a technical exercise, but there are still individuals with very strong mindsets saying, ‘That’s what I’m going to do’.
One of the great things that I think you’ve shown in the last few years is that, despite the external pressures, in your mind you’ve stayed with, ‘This is what I’m going to do’. And that is the difference, I reckon.
CL: It’s interesting. Like yourself, the last three or four years we’ve been in the sport we’ve had a high year and a low year and a high year.
We had a great year in ’96, and a low year in ’97, we came back and had a good year in ’98 and ’99 … 2000 was our turning year, and ever since then it’s just slowly increasing again.
PB: I don’t know whether you’ve got to the age yet where you can reflect on that, saying ‘this is better’, but eventually – maybe you’ve done it now – you say, ‘That was good for me’.
That challenge, that difficulty, that stuff that wasn’t particularly palatable at the time … you might say that’s unfair, but eventually it’s made you who you are.
CL: Well, yeah. Definitely the biggest thing is that you learn from things. I think ’97 was the biggest learning year of my life.
To go outside your environment that you’re comfortable in and race in another area, another country …
PB: But you’ve got to stick yourself out there; you’ve got to continually give yourself challenges.
This current challenge you’ve got, how do you think you’re going there?
CL: Yeah, pretty good. I think as a team we’re getting a lot closer together and gelling a lot more.
PB: Do you want my opinion as an outsider looking in?
Let’s rate your car. I’ll be a harsh marker here … let’s rate your car at seven out of ten.
PB: And I reckon you’re driving at at least nine out of ten. So I reckon you’re getting more out of your car than what it deserves.
So if you were driving another … another vehicle prepared within these regulations, shall we say (laughter), you’d probably be up there leading the pack.
CL: But this, I guess, is what the biggest challenge for us was. To get into a vehicle that no-one really rated, the Falcon, and …
PB: I don’t know why; if you arrived here from somewhere out of space and you lobbed on the planet – which someone did at the back paddock at my place the other day, by the way (laughter) – but if you did and you looked at the regulations … you’d say the Falcon had a lot going for it.
CL: I agree.
PB: So the potential’s there. But the culture of the team, as you know, that’s the thing to get.
CL: Yeah. And we’re gelling together as a team, I don’t think there’s any question about that. It will be interesting next year – and it will be the same for you as well, dealing with the new model car …
PB: It will be great.
CL: … and the cars will be closer.
PB: And also, as far as we’re concerned for next year, we can start with a clean sheet of paper and actually go and spend some money in that area, rather than taking existing equipment and trying to make the most of that.
I mean, what are you going to do – build something brand-new for six months?
PB: No, of course you’re not. So you sit there and say, ‘Let’s get the most we can out of this’, keeping in mind what you’re going to do in 2003.
Changing subject slightly, I must admit the greatest value I see in doing what I’m doing now is dealing with people. Strange, isn’t it. But I can just hang around with people and sign autographs – it’s great.
CL: But that was always your strong point.
PB: Yep. Forget the on-track (laughter). But you’ve certainly carried that mantle pretty well amongst the current crop.
CL: Well, it’s easy when you’ve got a teacher like yourself.
PB: Oh, yeah, sure (laughter). But it is very satisfying, isn’t it?
CL: Well, it is… to see the interest level in people and the way that they …
PB: The connection.
CL: Yeah. The connection we’ve got – I’m sure like yourself. Plenty of families around the countryside are almost part of the family.
PB: So what would you say to the average up-and-coming V8 Supercar driver who’s knocking on the door. Rate them, say, eight, eight and a half out of ten; they’re good kids, but they haven’t got any public recognition or rapport with the public. What would you say?
CL: Well, that’s a huge part of it, because if you don’t succeed in a driving sense – if you’re not a superstar race winner – then the view of the general public, how they see you, can either make or break your career.
Because, even if you don’t perform and succeed, if the general public still wants you and desires you, that can make sponsors attracted to you.
PB: And then it’s a snowballing effect.
PB: So not only have you got the sponsor, or the wherewithal to get the right people around you, you’ve also got that intangible, which is public support.
Now, you know as well as I do that from the first time that you started racing you were very conscious of that fact, that it’s good to be out there and be amongst the public and be liked by them, rather than the opposite. Life’s easier, isn’t it?
CL: It is; it’s a hell of a lot easier.
PB: So you’d say to these kids out there, ‘Get out there and do something.’
CL: Spend the time and do it, because it’s quite amazing – when you listen to what some of the comments are, it’s generally worthwhile.
And when people pay good money to come to the pits to look at drivers or teams or cars it’s not fair to fob them off, or be rude or arrogant towards them …
PB: Do you think there’s a level of preciousness in the culture at the moment? Like, ‘we’re doing them a favour by turning up’, or …
CL: Yeah, I guess there is. There are some teams out there, from what I’ve seen, that put up walls.
PB: They do, don’t they.
CL: And they seem like, ‘We’re bigger and better’.
I think some teams would like a Formula One-style pit or pit area – you know, swipe cards that only let media and a selected few other people in …
PB: Yeah. I think the NASCAR approach is pretty good. They’re fairly open-minded in the way they handle people, and they’re very approachable. And, really, you don’t feel as if you are intruding. Here, you can easily get that impression, even though we haven’t got the swipe cards.
CL: That’s the way I reckon some teams would like to see it go, though.
PB: But I like getting down to the merchandising area and just hanging out.
PB: It’s actually good! Holding babies and stuff like that! (laughs). Have you had a few ‘Craig Lowndes’ tattoos on people?
CL: Yeah, I had a couple at Eastern Creek. One guy was very particular about where he wanted it – and made sure that I used a fine pen so that the tattooist could copy it easily.
PB: Now, tell me. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever signed? Because I’ll swap with you.
CL: I’ve had some strange letters and I get some strange requests, but I can’t think of anything totally strange that we’ve had to sign.
PB: Mine was at Eastern Creek just the other day. There’s a queue there, and they’re all lined up – “How’s it going, Brocky?”, you know.
And this guy gets up front and says, “I’ve been following you since the Olympics in Melbourne” or something – I don’t know, it was a long time – “and I’d like you to sign something for me”.
He said, “it’s a bit unusual,” and I said, “that’s fine.”
The guy has got a glass eye! And he whips it out and puts it on the counter …
PB: And everyone just goes aaargh!” There were people basically fainting (laughter). So I got the pen and scribbled and he just put it back in!
PB: I swear to you! Isn’t that the wierdest thing you’ve ever heard in your life?
I mean, here’s this guy with this damn socket, just sitting there!
CL: A glass eye … I’ve got a bit to work on, haven’t I?
PB: That was a good one. Mind you, it took a long time to manifest itself. I mean, it wasn’t as if it happened when I was about your age.
There are some strange things out there, aren’t there? But I love it!
CL: That’s the great thing about what we do.
PB: Yeah, yeah. See, it’s not like footy and things like that.
I get to know a lot of footy players and cricket players, as you do, but motor racing’s different. I wonder what it is?
It’s because we take so many risks, I suppose. Or they think we do, anyway. Craig, do you take a few risks?
CL: Every now and then.
PB: Well, you have to, don’t you? That’s the deal.
CL: That’s what we’re employed to do.
PB: Like, well, ‘there’s a gap, that looks like me…’
CL: Yeah. Well, hopefully … (laughter).
PB: Well I thought it was!
One last thing. How important do you feel your mindset, your sense of wellbeing, is toward how well you’re going to go in the car?
CL: I think it’s a huge part of it. If you’re not thinking of the job at hand and don’t have a clear, settled mind, you’re not going to give one hundred percent. You never will.