Favourite sons plunge
Lowndes and Skaife are the people’s choice, writes Craig Duff
SENTIMENTAL favourites Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife have been backed into the front row of the bookies’ grid for this weekend’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
The pair have nine Bathurst wins between them and, on the back of their first-up endurance win at the 500km Phillip Island event last month, have topped their Team Vodafone teammate Jamie Whincup and V8 Supercar Championship series leader James Courtney as the drivers to beat.
Following a test at Queensland Raceway last week, Lowndes says the 888 Commodore feels flawless.
‘‘Coming away with a win at Phillip Island obviously gives us great motivation for Bathurst and for Mark and I to be able to work together again is absolutely sensational,’’ Lowndes says.
‘‘ We’ve run all the Bathurst driveline through it now and it’s feeling great.’’
Semi-retired Skaife says a decade has changed nothing for the pair and he believes they will only improve at Bathurst.
‘‘Driving together at the L&H 500 was great and it didn’t really seem like anything had changed, besides a few more grey hairs,’’ Skaife jokes.
Courtney’s Jim Beam Racing Falcon has been the car to beat in recent rounds, but handling problems at Phillip Island saw him finish — by his standards — a lowly fifth — and has relegated the Queensland-based racer to equal third in the betting, behind both Team Vodafone cars.
He still holds a 179-point championship lead and says he’s chasing a win, rather than just protecting the points.
‘‘I’m going there to win. I’ve been on the podium three times (he was second in 2007 and third in 2006 and 2008) at Bathurst, but never on the top step and that’s something I want to change.
‘‘It’s hard to split which is the most important between Bathurst or the championship.
‘‘If you win either it’s a great year, but if you win both it’s a fantastic year.’’
The 30-year-old will share an FG Falcon in this year’s race with fellow Gold Coast-based driver Warren Luff, a veteran of eight starts on the 6.2km Mount Panorama circuit.
Courtney expects the 161-lap race to be decided by a frantic sprint between the leading drivers in the closing stint.
‘‘You spend most of the race staying calm and calculating your fuel economy, and getting through all the pitstops and driver changes without any dramas,’’ he says.
‘‘The aim is to look after the car and keep circulating with the front pack, regardless of weather changes, Safety Car periods and anything else that happens along the way.
‘‘Then, after the last pitstops, everything goes crazy — that’s the time all the theory and tactics go out the window and you just drive flat out to the finish.’’
Ready: the start of last year’s Bathurst 1000. James Courtney believes this year will be a sprint finish.