SENSATIONAL SEVEN: GREATEST ADELAIDE 500 DRIVES

Craig Lowndes takes the flag in 1999. Pic: an1images.com

From the very first event in 1999, the Adelaide 500 played host to some of the most heroic performances from Supercars’ best drivers.

To celebrate the upcoming release of our new book Sensational Adelaide: The Illustrated History of the Adelaide 500, we’re looking back at the seven greatest drives in the event’s history.

Recently opened to pre-order here in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop, the 400-page, hardcover collector’s book brings all 22 years of the event to life through stunning photographs, stories and statistics.

There were 46 individual Supercars races held as part of the Adelaide 500 from 1999 to 2020 and picking a ‘sensational seven’ for this story was no easy task.

A couple are unlucky to miss out, but we reckon this lot is pretty hard to beat…

Craig Lowndes, 1999

The original and perhaps the best. Lowndes’ last-to-first performance on Sunday in the inaugural event in 1999 instantly became stuff of legend.

Lowndes started at the rear of the 35-car field due to an incident in the Saturday leg, for which he had initially been excluded from the results.

A fast car and slick strategy from the Holden Racing Team were key on Sunday but Lowndes was also at the peak of his powers and it took every ounce of effort from ‘The Kid’ to take a famous win.

Mark Skaife, 2000

Skaife was among those to fall by the wayside in 1999, crashing out on Sunday amid severe back pain during a gruelling event that delivered a major blow to his championship hopes.

Engine trouble in the Saturday race in 2000 had him starting from 38th on Sunday, where he repeated Lowndes’ trick from the year prior by storming through for the race win.

Skaife won despite a stop-go penalty for pit lane speeding amid a chaotic race impacted by heavy rain. In the immediate aftermath he described it as his greatest drive to date.

Marcos Ambrose, 2005

Ambrose celebrates victory in 2005. Pic: an1images.com

Ambrose toppled Skaife to crack a maiden Adelaide race win on Saturday in 2003 before the HRT star bit back on the Sunday.

But for the next two years Ambrose painted the town blue; in 2004 and ’05 he did the Saturday/Sunday double to rocket to the top of the Adelaide race win tally.

His last performance on Sunday in 2005 was an emphatic way to say goodbye to the Adelaide fans, having announced just a fortnight earlier that he was off to NASCAR the following season.

Jamie Whincup, 2012

Whincup put in a number of sterling drives in Adelaide, including one which yielded his first V8 race win on debut with Triple Eight in 2006.

But victory on Saturday at the 2012 Adelaide 500 is Whincup’s personal favourite and clearly an emotional one as it came less than a week after the death of his father, David.

Circumstances had forced the #88 entry onto the sub-optimal three-stop strategy and only a series of qualifying-type laps allowed Whincup to chase down his fuel-starved mate Will Davison for victory.

Scott McLaughlin, 2014

It’s the only drive on this list that didn’t end in a race win, but how could we possibly leave it out?!

McLaughlin put Volvo on the Australian sporting map by defeating Whincup in a cracking last-lap battle for second in the twilight on Saturday in 2014, a duel that was only resolved at the final corner.

It came in the first V8 Supercars appearance for Garry Rogers Motorsport’s Volvo S60 and, of course, McLaughlin’s ‘gave it some jandal’ post-race interview added greatly to the legend.

James Courtney, 2016

Three of Courtney’s greatest Supercars triumphs have taken place in Adelaide, including famous Sunday wins in 2014 and ’15.

But it was his performance to hold off Whincup for victory in the second 125km Saturday race in 2016 that earns a place on this list.

The body language of Courtney’s car said it all, particularly through the fearsome Turn 8 on the final lap; the 2010 champion put everything on the line on the way to what remains his most recent Supercars win.  

Shane van Gisbergen, 2017

Van Gisbergen was unstoppable in 2017. Pic: an1images.com

Van Gisbergen is another who could have more than one entry on this list. The Kiwi’s first Adelaide win in 2013 was epic in its context: a spectacular re-entry to the championship with TEKNO amid a sea of controversy.

He went on to score back-to-back Saturday/Sunday doubles in 2017 and ’18 and it’s the Sunday race from the first of those two years that is recognised here.

Van Gisbergen chased down compatriot McLaughlin for the win, grabbing the lead when the Shell recruit made a mistake under increasing pressure three laps from home in a classic Ford versus Holden nail-biter.