Favourite sons plunge

Lown­des and Skaife are the peo­ple’s choice, writes Craig Duff

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On Road -

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.

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