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The carnage amid Lowndes’ first Supercars title

JUNE 2, 1996 will forever be the date that Craig Lowndes secured his first Supercars Championship title but, as this edition of Ryco Rewind recounts, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the sport’s new young star.

Lowndes had lost the points lead after the sixth round of the Australian Touring Car Championship at Calder Park, but swept all six races at the subsequent Lakeside and Wanneroo rounds to give himself a mathematical chance of clinching the title at the penultimate round at Mallala at the start of June.

John Bowe, his only title rival, claimed pole position but trailed Lowndes across the line in the first two races, leaving the margin between them at 67 points with a maximum of 60 across a round.

Race 3, though, proved a bruising affair.

The trouble started just three corners into the race. Bowe jumped Lowndes off the line and led onto the back straight, but behind them was chaos.

Crash crews and team members assess the damage following the multi-car crash at the start of Race 3. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Alan Jones turned Peter Brock into a spin and the #05 Commodore was quickly collected by a concertina of cars; Larry Perkins, Glenn Seton, Mark Skaife, Tony Longhurst and Greg Crick all piled in nose-to-tail.

The race was immediately red-flagged but none of those involved in the crash made it out for the restart, leaving just 13 cars on the grid and large gaps between them.

Lowndes made a better getaway at the second attempt but Bowe still led into the opening sequence of corners.

For the next 14 laps, Bowe added another chapter to his reputation of being ‘harder to pass than a kidney stone’, sternly defending Lowndes’ advances and allowing Jones to close in to make a three-car battle for the lead, with Russell Ingall and Wayne Gardner close behind.

Bowe holding off Lowndes as Jones closes in. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Had they finished in that order, Bowe would have ceded the title regardless: Lowndes only had to finish third or better to take the title.

But they never made it to the chequered flag.

Four laps from home, Jones tagged the back of the HRT Commodore at the end of the back straight, sending Lowndes spinning into Bowe and sending all three off the track.

They all returned to the circuit down the field, but lingering suspension damage meant Bowe made it just one corner further before spinning into the sand.

Bowe’s title defence ended in the gravel. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

All of it opened the door to Gardner, who raced clear to claim his first ATCC/SC race win from Steven Richards – Ingall spun at the hairpin a couple of laps from home – with Jones recovering to third place.

Lowndes was pipped to fourth place by Dick Johnson, but his fifth-place finish was enough to clinch his maiden championship title.

However, the damage to Lowndes’ car – the infamous ‘Petty Bar’ car nicknamed ‘Gabrielle’ – was significant enough that Lowndes had to move into the team’s spare chassis for the Oran Park finale two weeks later, scuppering a plan for Tomas Mezera to race a third HRT entry at the season finale.

Another driver forced out of Oran Park was Mark Larkham.

Sadly, it wasn’t the last time the Mitre 10 Falcon was badly damaged in 1996. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

He’d been involved in a Lap-1 tangle in the opening race that also claimed Paul Romano and Chris Smerdon, the damage ruling all three out of the remainder of the day’s action.

While Romano and Smerdon were back in action for Oran Park, the Mitre 10 Falcon was destroyed from the firewall forward and Larkham’s small team was unable to repair it in time for the season finale.

The full report on the race meeting featured in Issue 76 of Motorsport News, which can now be read in full online as part of AN1 Media’s work to digitise the publication’s archive.

This story is the latest in our series of Ryco Rewind stories as we take a look back through Australian motorsport history and explore the great races, drivers and cars from the past on the relevant anniversary.

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