BANYO and STAPYLTON, Queensland, Australia – Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship season previews! Our penultimate preview looks at the likes of Will Davison and Craig Lowndes.
TEKNO Autosports/ Team Vortex
No. 19 – Will Davison, Woodstock Holden Commodore VF
No. 888 – Craig Lowndes, Team Vortex Holden Commodore VF
2016 DRIVERS POINTS FINISH: Will Davison: 5th, Craig Lowndes: 4th
2016 HIGHEST RACE FINISH: Will: Victory in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, Craig: Two victories at Perth and Queensland
This is, in effect, the secondary pit boom of Triple Eight Race Engineering, so it should come as no surprise that both drivers had excellent 2016 seasons.
Craig may have been the higher of the two drivers in the final points standings last season, but it was Davison who stole the headlines with his first career victory in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
It was a wild finish to the Bathurst 1000, in which Davison became the first driver to win the race without leading a single lap. Technically, it was Jamie Whincup that led the final stint – but he was penalized for his role in the incident that took Scott McLaughlin and Garth Tander late in the going, and would eventually be credited with 11th in the final running order.
TEKNO Autosport, however, could care less how they won the race. All that mattered was that both team and driver had the single biggest moments of their career.
There were many deserving people who broke streaks and trends that day. Davison won his first Bathurst 1000 since 2009, but this was his maiden victory as the primary driver and in his own car. For team owner and co-driver Jonathon Webb, it was his first win on the Mountain – but more importantly, it was the validation of everything he had built with TEKNO since he started the team in 2010.
Davison had much reason to be happy in 2016 beyond Bathurst: he also won at Symmons Plains, and put together his best season since he left Prodrive Racing Australia in 2013.
Most importantly, Davison seems as happy with his career as he’s ever been. He was mightily competitive at Prodrive, but he also got the sense that he was the No. 2 driver behind Mark Winterbottom. That was the main reason he moved away from the team, and he has spent the last few seasons working back up to a position where he is a team’s No. 1 driver and is competing for wins and championships.
Now, at TEKNO, he has all of those variables in place the way he would like, and has his personal life well-sorted too, as he is engaged to Supercars reporter Riana Crehan. She had the honor of interviewing him right after the Bathurst 1000 – it was doubtless a special moment for them both!
In short, Davison is a happier man than he has been in a long, long time, and when he’s happy, he’s quite fast. Better yet for him is that there are virtually no changes in the TEKNO garage for 2017, save for a primary sponsor change: out goes STIX licorice and in comes the cola/ bourbon combination beverage Woodstock. Podiums, victories and a potential championship run will be on the cards for Davison in 2017.
Lowndes came into 2016 with somewhat new surroundings: he jumped into a brand-new car in the Triple Eight stable with sponsorship from Vortex Fuels as Shane van Gisbergen joined the team and moved into the second Red Bull car.
It was another solid season for Lowndes, who is as consistent as any driver in the championship. Seven podiums, two wins and all but five laps of the 1804 Supercars ran in 2016 completed are strong numbers indeed.
The only sore spot in his season may well be that Scott McLaughlin was able to take his Garry Rogers Motorsport Volvo and leapfrog Lowndes in the standings to prevent Triple Eight from sweeping the top three positions in the final drivers’ standings.
Interesting, then, that the most significant change to Lowndes’ team for 2017 indirectly involves McLaughlin as well.
Lowndes loses his Engineer from last season, Ludo Lacroix, as the Frenchman joins DJR Team Penske this season to take up the same position with McLaughlin (who also moved to DJRTP in the offseason). Replacing Lacroix is John McGregor, who has been a Data Engineer at Triple Eight for the past four seasons. It is another case of promotion from within for Triple Eight, and in most cases, those promotions have worked well. David Cauchi’s stint as Race Engineer for Jamie Whincup is the only notable promotion that didn’t entirely work out (mind you, Whincup was still plenty fast with Cauchi – just not as fast as Triple Eight would have liked).
As for whether or not Lacroix and McLaughlin become a direct threat to Triple Eight, it will depend on how strong the operation is around them. The most high-profile case that compares in recent seasons is Adrian Burgess’ departure to Mobil 1 HSV Racing for the 2014 season. In that case, Burgess’ departure didn’t move the needle on Mobil 1 HSV Racing’s performance all that much, which speaks volumes about the underlying strength of both teams’ operations. Simply put: McLaughlin’s performance with Lacroix this season will be a litmus test for the gains DJRTP has made as a team in the past few seasons, while Lowndes’ performance with McGregor will be another test of Triple Eight’s ability as a whole.
That subplot of Lowndes v. McLaughlin will be one of the most fascinating to watch. Lowndes is currently the most popular driver in the series, and McLaughlin is all but guaranteed to take over that mantle when Lowndes decides to retire. Lowndes is competitive as ever, but at 42 years old, he is one of the oldest drivers on the grid. How both drivers manage the transition over the next handful of seasons will be something that astute fans of the Supercars championship will watch closely.
But in 2017, Lowndes has all the tools to succeed, and the natural talent and ability to win his fourth series championship. There will be plenty of podium interviews for the “People’s Champion” in 2017 – and plenty of chances for Craig to say hello to his children, Levi and Chilli, at home.
For more information on TEKNO Autosport, visit tekno.com.au.
For more information on Team Vortex, visit teamvortex.com.au.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit www.supercars.com.
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas. He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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