Supercars stalwart Craig Lowndes has announced he will retire at the end of 2018, bringing to end a career which spanned 22 seasons and saw him win three championships.
One of the series’ most successful drivers, Lowndes has 106 race wins to his name, becoming the first Supercars centurion at Hidden Valley in 2015, as well as six victories in the Bathurst 1000, winning his most recent in 2015 as well.
Racing in the championship since 1996, apart from 1997 where he raced in Formula 3, Lowndes racked up three titles with the Holden Racing Team in the late 90’s, moving to Gibson Motorsport, Ford Performance Racing and finally Triple Eight Race Engineering where he has remained since 2005.
While Lowndes will step down from full-time driving at the end of the year, he will remain with Triple Eight as a consultant and co-driver moving forwards as well as a part of the TV commentary line-up in 2019. A recipient of the Order of Australia and a five time Barry Sheene Medalist, Lowndes’ status as the most popular driver in the paddock will remain even after retirement.
His retirement allows he and Whincup to team up again next year for the Enduro Cup, looking to add a fourth joint Bathurst 1000 victory after their run of wins in the late 2000’s.
The Victorian driver is the only driver in the field to have raced in the pre-Supercars days, making his debut at the 1994 Sandown for HRT before stunning the crowd at Bathurst that year by nearly winning with Brad Jones. He made his first full-time appearance at Eastern Creek in 1996, winning the opening round then going on to win Sandown, Bathurst and the championship that year.
In 1998 and 1999 he again won the championship though a shock move to Ford team Gibson Motorsport in 2001 saw him only win one race for the team, on debut in the opening race in Adelaide.
A switch to the factory backed Ford Performance Racing in 2003 gave him his first round win since 2000 and saw him finish fifth in the championship standings. Poor reliability in 2004 heralded another winless season, forcing him to find a new team to be competitive in 2005.
Triple Eight signed him to their line-up in 2005, resulting in Lowndes taking the most round wins and poles throughout the year. Second in the standings was a massive improvement over previous years, boosting him and the team up for the next season.
2006 was a big year for Lowndes and his new team-mate Jamie Whincup. The pair emotionally won that year’s Bathurst 1000, the first after Bathurst legend and Lowndes’ mentor Peter Brock passed away. Tied with Rick Kelly on the points heading in to the final race, Lowndes was controversially hit off the road and lost the title at the death.
2007 and 2008 again saw Lowndes and Whincup win at Bathurst, being the most recent combination to win the race for three years in a row in a Triple Eight “three-peat”.
While the success could not be repeated in 2009, a rule change in 2010 ensured two full-time drivers couldn’t be paired with each other. Lowndes’ old HRT team-mate Mark Skaife joined him for the 2010 assault, the pair winning Bathurst together.
The victory was nearly repeated in 2011 but they had to settle for second, helping Lowndes’ championship chances as the title fight with Whincup went down to the wire, Lowndes again having to make do with second and ensure his place as a team player.
A resurgence for Lowndes in 2015 netted his 100th victory at Hidden Valley as well as his most recent Bathurst 1000 win with Steven Richards. His win, ahead of Mark Winterbottom, set up their title fight going in to the final rounds with Lowndes only just missing out on a fourth championship.
2017 was a winless year for Lowndes as he struggled on the new-spec Dunlop tyres, controversially ending up as a pivotal part of the title battle in the final race between Scott McLaughlin and team-mate Jamie Whincup. While he copped a lot of flack, he still remains as a crowd favourite at every round.
Lowndes will be looking to add a 107th win and maybe more to his CV after his most recent victory at Symmons Plains this year. The farewell tour will culminate in him making his final start at Newcastle before stepping back within the team.