Craig Lowndes has claimed his sixth Bathurst 1000 victory – co-driver Steven Richards took his fourth – in a tense endurance race at the iconic Mount Panorama circuit.
The Red Bull Racing driver used a shorter final pit stop to leapfrog his rivals ahead of the final stint, with his Holden crossing the line ahead of Prodrive’s Mark Winterbottom and the Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander.
Saturday’s weather-affected qualifying had provided something of a mixed up grid, which gave fans a race of marked strategy variations and plenty of overtaking as faster drivers worked their way through the field.
None of the podium finishers (14th, 15th and 22nd-fastest in qualifying) started from inside the first five rows of the grid, marking the first time the achievement has occurred since 1987.
Lowndes and his Red Bull Racing teammate and defending champion Jamie Whincup looked to be contenders throughout the race once both drivers had worked their way to the front of the field.
The start of the race saw pole-winner David Reynolds’ co-driver Dean Canto make the best of starts to lead the opening laps in his Bottle-O Racing Ford, but as one of the few co-drivers to start the race, it was rather inevitable that he would find himself quickly gobbled up by the chasing full-time V8 drivers.
New Zealand duo Scott McLaughlin (Volvo Polestar GRM) and Shane van Gisbergen (TEKNO Autosports) were quick to dispatch of Canto and ran 1-2 until Lap 16, at which point the sister Volvo of David Wall ground to a halt at the side of Conrod Straight with a smokey engine failure.
Wall’s stricken car had managed to deposit substantial amounts of oil on the downhill run on the circuit, and that caught out the Prodrive-run ‘Supergirls’ entry of Renee Gracie and Simona de Silvestro. Gracie slid on the oil at Forrest’s Elbow and nosed into the barriers hard.
She was able to reverse out of the tyre wall and limp back to the pits, where the mechanics performed a miracle over the next 90 minutes to get the badly-damaged car repaired so Simona de Silvestro could get out on track. The pair ultimately rejoined 38 laps down, and managed to finish inside the 75% threshold to be classified as a finisher. It was hardly the outcome that the pair deserved.
After that Safety Car interruption, Whincup set about working his way to the front of the field and put in a charge to move from eighth place into the lead in a handful of laps. By Lap 32, he was out on front after overtaking McLaughlin’s co-driver Alexandre Prémat at The Chase.
Four laps later and the race’s second Safety Car interruption was called after the Super Black Racing Ford of Ant Pedersen / Andre Heimgartner was spun out of the race at Hell Corner by the LDM Holden of Karl Reindler.
With three of the five Prodrive-run Fords now out of action (including Chaz Mostert’s non-startafter he broke his leg in qualifying), the Victorian outfit proved that bad luck does not come in threes when the #5 entry of championship leader Mark Winterbottom was struck with electrical gremlins that left the car’s brake lights stuck on.
Race Control gave the team a mechanical black flag to sort out the issue, but Winterbottom pitted a lap too late and so was subsequently handed a 15-second time penalty to be served at his next pit stop.
The race ran without any significant incident until the halfway mark when Tim Blanchard crashed out at Sulman Park on Lap 79. His LDM Holden was badly damaged in the shunt, and the Safety Car was summoned again so the wreck could be safely cleared from the track.
By now, the Red Bull Racing Holdens of Whincup and Lowndes were running 1-2 ahead of Shane van Gisbergen’s TEKNO Holden.
Forecasts of a heavy rain shower ran true just a few laps later, forcing the entire field into the pits for wet-weather tyres – their stops coming shortly after visiting the pits during the Blanchard-triggered Safety Car.
Whincup was one such driver to have done so and ahead of a switch to wet-weather tyres, found himself stuck behind teammate Lowndes. He opted to pit a lap later than Lowndes to avoid losing time double-stacking in the pits behind the series veteran.
The ran stopped almost as quickly as it started, and the track surface was soon dry enough to trigger a return to dry-weather tyres. Lowndes bit the bullet on Lap 103, quickly triggering the rest of the field to do the same.
The penultimate round of pit stops saw the Prodrive Fords of Reynolds and Winterbottom get the jump on the two Red Bull Holdens by dint of being short-filled for this stint. Both would have to serve longer final pit stops than the Red Bulls in order to have enough fuel to make it to the chequered flag.
The decisive moment in the race came with just over 20 laps to go when Scott Pye suffered a steering failure and crashed out at McPhillamy Park. It was perfectly timed for those needing to make their final pit stops, and all of the frontrunners except Whincup peeled into the pits once again.
Whincup was actually instructed to pit and ‘double-stack’ behind Lowndes, but ignored the order and somehow – despite the presence of a Safety Car – pit on the next lap and only emerge with Lowndes in front.
It soon turned out that the six-time series champion had forgotten one of the most basic rules of all: don’t overtake the Safety Car, which is precisely what he did as he roared up Mountain Straight.
He was handed a drive-through penalty as soon as racing was resumed, and spent the restart lap ensuring that the chasing field was delayed just enough to allow Lowndes to skip off into an unchallenged three-second lead.
Winterbottom had snuck into an effective second place thanks to a wild lunge on Reynolds at Turn 1 by Brad Jones Racing driver Fabian Coulthard. The move only succeeded in both Coulthard and Reynolds being pushed wide, which allowed Winterbottom and McLaughlin into second and third once Whincup pulled into the pits for his penalty.
McLaughlin’s run in third lasted all of the length of Mountain Straight before Coulthard was able to fight back and reclaim the spot, but an enterprising Garth Tander managed to pass the pair of them with a brave move at Griffin’s Bend.
That action effectively set the podium, as Winterbottom could do little to close down on Lowndes’ lead, while Tander was kept busy for the rest of the race trying to keep Coulthard at bay.
Further threats of rain would ultimately not eventuate, and Lowndes had an untroubled run to the chequered flag to claim his sixth Bathurst 1000 triumph – his first since 2010 and the Triple Eight stable’s first since 2012.
Winterbottom collected second place to consolidate his championship lead and now looks certain – barring a complete disaster in the home stretch of the championship season – to claim a maiden Drivers’ Championship title now that his chief rival and teammate Mostert is out for an extended period thanks to his broken leg.
Tander and co-driver Luff completed the podium, giving the lanky West Australian just his second podium finish of the season – and his first since the season-opening Clipsal 500 in Adelaide – in what has been a trying year for the former champion.
The Coulthard/Youlden combination finished fourth for Brad Jones Racing ahead of the McLaughlin/Prémat Volvo; the latter gave the Swedish carmaker its best Bathurst result since its SuperTouring victory in 1998.
The next round of the V8 Supercars Championship is at the Gold Coast 600 in two weeks’ time.
|2015 V8 Supercars SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000 – Final Classification (161 laps)|
|Pos||Driver / Co-Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Craig Lowndes / Steven richards||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||161||6:16:07.707|
|2.||Mark Winterbottom / Steve Owen||Prodrive Racing Australia||161||+ 1.365|
|3.||Garth Tander / Warren Luff||Holden Racing Team||161||+ 3.952|
|4.||Fabian Coulthard / Luke Youlden||Brad Jones Racing||161||+ 4.417|
|5.||Scott McLaughlin / Alexandre Premat||Polestar GRM Volvo||161||+ 9.715|
|6.||David Reynolds / Dean Canto||The Bottle-O Racing Team||161||+ 10.983|
|7.||Jason Bright / Andrew Jones||Brad Jones Racing||161||+ 12.010|
|8.||Shane van Gisbergen / Jonathon Webb||TEKNO Autosports||161||+ 14.312|
|9.||Lee Holdsworth / Sébastien Bourdais||Walkinshaw Performance||161||+ 14.720|
|10.||James Moffat / Taz Douglas||Nissan Motorsport||161||+ 20.193|
|11.||Jack Perkins / Russell Ingall||Holden Racing Team||161||+ 21.196|
|12.||Will Davison / Alex Davison||Erebus Motorsport V8||161||+ 21.623|
|13.||Michael Caruso / Dean Fiore||Nissan Motorsport||161||+ 29.579|
|14.||Tim Slade / Tony D’Alberto||Walkinshaw Performance||161||+ 31.593|
|15.||Dale Wood / Macauley Jones||Brad Jones Racing||161||+ 31.978|
|16.||Rick Kelly / David Russell||Nissan Motorsport||161||+ 35.202|
|17.||Aaren Russell / Drew Russell||Novocastrian Motorsport||161||+ 43.583|
|18.||Jamie Whincup / Paul Dumbrell||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||161||+ 1:01.961|
|19.||Nick Percat / Oliver Gavin||Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport||159||+ 2 laps|
|20.||Todd Kelly / Alex Buncombe||Nissan Motorsport||156||+ 5 laps|
|21.||Simona de Silvestro / Renee Gracie||Harvey Norman Supergirls||121||+ 40 laps|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Scott Pye / Marcos Ambrose||DJR Team Penske||137||Steering|
|DNF.||Ash Walsh / Jack Le Brocq||Erebus Motorsport V8||135||Accident|
|DNF.||Tim Blanchard / Karl Reindler||Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport||78||Accident|
|DNF.||Andre Heimgartner / Ant Pedersen||Super Black Racing||35||Collision|
|DNF.||David Wall / Chris Pither||Polestar GRM Volvo||15||Engine|
|WD.||Chaz Mostert / Cameron Waters||Prodrive Racing Australia||Injured|
Image via V8 Supercars