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How Lowndes found primary driving return

LAST Sunday marked Craig Lowndes’ first event as a Repco Supercars Championship primary driver in four years – and maybe the last of his illustrious career.

Having co-driven with Jamie Whincup in the Red Bull #88 each endurance season since his full-time retirement at the end of 2018, Lowndes was back in the hot seat leading the #888 Supercheap Auto-backed wildcard at the Repco Bathurst 1000.

It was unclear in the lead-up whether he or rookie Declan Fraser would qualify the car, but Lowndes’ designation as the primary ended up more than true: qualifying in wet conditions, starting the Great Race, and triple-stinting to the end.

Through it all, he held his own to secure eighth place – the best ever Bathurst 1000 result for a wildcard.

“I actually really enjoyed being back to primary driver and having that responsibility of qualifying,” he told V8 Sleuth.

“I was annoyed with myself, I think we had more in it and I think a lot of drivers would probably say the same, just underestimated the conditions probably a little bit, but it was fun to be back in that role.

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“The pace of the race I was really comfortable. Physically I came out of the race fine, I was ready to go again Monday.

“I think the thing that hurt us was to try to get the balance with the low drag across the top of The Mountain – we couldn’t really achieve that.

Lowndes braves the wet conditions

“We actually went back up with the rear wing in the late stages of the race which gave us our tyre life and our consistency but what hurt us was our straightline speed, we were lacking in that side of it.

“So I think finishing position eight was the best we could hope for with the car that we had. No doubt if we could have managed the low drag balance, I think we could have worked our way further forward.”

Lowndes is under contract at Triple Eight Race Engineering for 2023 and his latest Mount Panorama masterclass means there is flexibility with what role he plays.

“Whatever happens next year, I’m contracted,” said the 48-year-old.

“Whether it’s a Red Bull car or whether it’s a wildcard car, I’m really looking forward to getting back there next year.”

MORE: The Bathurst 1000 storyline which flew under the radar

MORE: Fraser builds 2023 case with fine Bathurst debut

A shift back into the Red Bull co-driver ranks could be possible either if Garth Tander retires, now as a five-time Bathurst 1000 winner, or if Whincup elects not to juggle co-driving with team boss life again.

Another reason to smile from Bathurst was Lowndes’ opportunity to share a garage with fellow wildcard Greg Murphy, with whom he won the 1996 Great Race.

“There was a little bit of banter, yes,” said Lowndes.

“It all started in qualifying when Murph wandered over to our side when I was strapped into the car, basically giving me a bit of grief… and then of course it came around to him when he had to start their car in position four when he hadn’t started one of these cars for a long time.

“There was a bit of banter going back and forth and I was trying to wind him up a little bit, it was a bit of fun.”

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