SATURDAY SLEUTHING: LOWNDES’ HRT CALDER ROLL-OVER CAR

Ouch! The Lowndes Commodore sits on its roof after its roll-over at Calder in 1999. Photo: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith.

IT’S one of the most famous moments in V8 Supercars history and whenever talk moves to ‘biggest crashes’, this one just about takes the cake!

Today on Saturday Sleuthing we take a look at the Holden Racing Team Commodore VT that helped Craig Lowndes take out the 1999 Shell Championship Series crown, albeit having only done a handful of the rounds!

Of course we’re talking about the car crashed at Calder in 1999 when a multi-car accident shortly after the start of Race 2 saw then-HRT ace – and reigning champion – Lowndes launched into a series of rolls as his VT Commodore went skidding down the circuit on its roof and then commenced a series of ugly tumbles.

‘The Kid’ emerged largely unscathed but his car, which was competing in just its third-ever event, was junked.

“One of the things that was an eye-opener was all the people that stopped to help me,” Lowndes told us a few years back in our sold-out book documenting the history of HRT’s race cars. 

“I still laugh at the photo of Larry Perkins stopped to have a look at our undertray and suspension points while everyone was trying to get me out of the car! I am sure he had a tape measure out too!

“The beauty of that accident was that it proved the safety standards the team were implementing at the time were absolutely justified. If I didn’t have a window net on that car, I don’t think I would have a right arm today. My right elbow hit the ground on the road in one of the rollovers, so without the window net I would have been in big trouble.

“On the video you can see the brake lights are on while I am rolling because I had my right leg on the brake pedal to brace myself. But I didn’t brace the left leg and that’s the one I had to have the knee reconstruction on. Once I had stopped doing rolls, I tried to radio the crew to let them know I was OK, but of course I had ground the aerials off on the road from rolling over and over and over!”

If you’re a Holden fan, then you definitely should not miss out on a copy of our new ‘Racing The Lion’ Holden illustrated motorsport history book here that is available for pre-order here it’s a whopping huge 400 page book featuring an illustrated history of Holden in motorsport in Australia.

The Calder 1999 roll over chassis, HRT 040, was the third VT Commodore built by the team and had been debuted at Sandown in June 1999 with Lowndes at the wheel (where he finished second for the round and won Race 3) and he had also raced at the inaugural Queensland Raceway sprint round, where it had won all three races. 

Before things went wrong at Calder … Photo: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

In fact, it only competed in a total of seven races over three weekends and never finished outside the top three!

Lowndes sat out a round at Symmons Plains after surgery on his knee and returned to eventually claim his third championship, but the car that had saved him from greater injury was a write-off.

Or was it?

Parts and panels salvaged from the car were autographed by Lowndes and auctioned off and the remnants of the chassis were left under a cover and eventually stored at HRT’s chassis engineers, Dencar, in Dandenong, Melbourne.

For some time, HRT had a desire to create a dedicated ride car, which would reduce the workload for the team’s actual racecars.

Towards the end of 2001, two things happened that allowed this to come to fruition. 

Dencar needed to clear room in their factory and they wished to scrap the car, and at the same time HRT’s long-time partner Bridgestone lost its contract to provide the control tyre to V8 Supercars to Dunlop.

With an abundance of tyres left over and Bridgestone willing to provide the rubber to HRT’s mooted ride car program, the ex-Lowndes crash car was brought back to life under the direction of Rick Wyatt as a three-seat ride car with special CAMS approval given for the unorthodox roll cage design and rear seat over the driveshaft area.  

Work was completed on the car in 2002 and the car was then dubbed ‘PR2’ (PR standing for Passenger Ride) and pressed into action for the next few years on a range of tracks around the country with hundreds of V8 fanatics going for a hot lap.

To keep it distinct from the actual HRT racecars, the PR2 ride car ran on the superseded Bridgestone tyre stock and ran a bigger Chev engine and clocked up thousands and thousands of laps around the country at team ride days.

HRT’s 2005 and 2006 endurance signings James Courtney and Ryan Briscoe both turned laps in the car as well as former HRT driver Neil Crompton. By then a Network 10 TV commentator, the HRT foundation pilot was engaged by the team to give rides on the team’s various PR2 days around the country, which by 2006 had expanded to visiting six states across the country.

HRT 040 during pre-season team photo shoot at Phillip Island in 2006. Photo: an1images.com / Justin Deeley.

The car’s service ended at the completion of that year. The introduction of the newer-shape VE Commodore into V8 Supercar racing and a re-organisation of the ride car portion of the business meant it was superseded. Mark Skaife retained ownership of the car after his retirement from full-time racing and subsequent sell-out of his share of HRT to Tom Walkinshaw at the end of the 2008 season.

After a birthday at Walkinshaw Racing it remained in its 2006 HRT livery and was later placed on long-term display at Phillip Island’s Visitor Centre ‘History of Motorsport’ display before a deal was done in very late 2016 for the car to be acquired by Ben Eggleston and Eggleston Motorsport.

The Dunlop Super2 Series team has been busy building up an impressive factory of HRT race car restoration projects and still has the intent to eventually return HRT 040 to its Lowndes #1 HRT VT 1999 race car specification and livery sometime down the track.

With over 20 years in the Australian motorsport industry, Noonan is the head of V8 Sleuth. He’s held a range of roles including working in television with Seven and Ten, print media and public relations. With a specialty in Australian motorsport history, he’s known around racing paddocks as ’the Sleuth’ and started his motorsport media career in 1997.