BRISBANE, Australia — The Virgin Australia Supercars Championships’s ironman, three-time series titlist Craig Lowndes, is likely to have his contract extended by Triple Eight Race Engineering beyond the 2017 season, with a target of reaching the milestone of 700 championship race starts.
Comments confirming the possibility were made by team principal Roland Dane following Lowndes’ 600th race start in Sunday’s Red Rooster Sydney SuperSprint finale.
Lowndes, 42, celebrated the record-setting appearance with a huge move around the outside and into the lead from fourth on the grid, ultimateli finishing second in his TeamVortex Holden Commodore VF behind long-time teammate Jamie Whincup.
Lowndes was renewed for two years as the driver of T8’s new satellite entry this year and has relished his new role outside the Red Bull garage. He has won two races and runs third in the championship behind Whincup and new teammate Shane van Gisbergen.
“I think there is every chance (of having Craig back); I’d be surprised if we didn’t (re-sign him) as a full-time driver,” Dane said Sunday evening. “I look at him now and I think he is motivated and enjoying it; he has got his own group around him.”
“He looks to me like a bloke who is mostly enjoying his racing as much as he ever has. He loves doing what he does. He’s a bit like Shane (van Gisbergen) in that he just loves driving race cars.”
An extension would mean Lowndes would play a role in the development and racing of the new generation Holden Commodore Supercar that is set to debut in 2018.
Triple Eight has been handed the responsibility for that project by Holden, and the marque has also handed the Red Bull team the mantle of the official Holden Racing Team from the current Walkinshaw-owned operation, beginning next year.
Lowndes has made it clear he wants to go on and be a full-time part of the new era, with the goal of making 700 starts.
“I think I’d need another three years in the sport I worked out the other day,” Lowndes explained. “You’d like to think so and hope (you’ll be back).Obviously, this year and next year we are contracted, but beyond that who knows what is going to happen.”
“It is up to Roland and for us to sit down and work it out. To make a strong case we have to keep performing the way we are. Right now we are doing that. I am enjoying it and I would like to think we can go on beyond 2017. I’d like to think we can and we will see what happens and if we hit 700.”
Lowndes joined Triple Eight Race Engineering in its second year in Australia in 2005, winning the team’s first race and round at SMP (then known as Eastern Creek Raceway) in May of that year.
While he has never added to the three drivers’ championships he won at HRT in the 1990s, Lowndes has finished second in the championship six times and won Bathurst five times as a part of Triple Eight, adding to his 1996 win with HRT.
“He is still running at the front of the field and validating our plan to keep him racing for a lot longer,” Dane added. “Craig proved yet again his talent this weekend with a start that everyone else would love to do … to be able to go from fourth to P1 at the first corner.”
“He led much of the race and only just lost out in the pits slightly to Jamie (Whincup). We were really happy with that.”
CREDIT: Supercars Communications