A “rejuvenated” Craig Lowndes is looking towards his Supercars return as the season of endurance approaches.
Lowndes retired from full-time driving at the end of the 2018 season, but was quickly retained by Triple Eight as a co-driver for the 2019 enduros.
It was later confirmed Lowndes will reunite with Jamie Whincup for the year’s longest races, and the duo will run the team’s famous #888, the number Lowndes carried in six of his seven Bathurst wins.
Live stream the 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship on KAYO SPORTS. Every practice, qualifying & race live & anytime in HD. Get your 14 day free trial >
‘I like the hype’: Mostert responds to contract rumours
‘Like being drafted from VFL to AFL’: Tickford reveals wildcard
‘Negative into positive’: How infamous Ford poster was used for good
‘We’ve been spoiled in the past’: Why Bathurst will be tougher in 2019
Lowndes joined the FOX Sports team as an expert commentator for the 2019 season, but despite hanging up the helmet on a full-time basis, the 45-year-old remains an ever-present force in the paddock.
Having had time to focus on life away from competition, Lowndes said he feels prepared to attack the cauldron of Supercars racing.
However, Lowndes and the grid’s other co-drivers will be under pressure to execute at the first time of asking, with no Sandown lead-up event before Bathurst in 2019.
Regardless, Lowndes will confidently arrive to Mount Panorama as the reigning champion, and expects his partnership with Whincup to pick up where it left off.
LISTEN TO THE LATEST PODCAST: Ryan Story l Poster-Gate l 888 resurgence l Parc Ferme slammed
“Time outside the car has been good. I feel rejuvenated,” Lowndes told foxsports.com.au.
“There’s no stress anymore with being a full-time driver. It’s still been great to be a part of the sport in commentating it.
“Watching the improvements of the cars, with the changes with the linear spring and other things, there’s been a shake-up for a lot of teams.
“The Mustang has proven to be fast, but I think when we get to Bathurst, the game will have changed.
“You don’t necessarily need the have the fastest car on race day, you just need to have the most reliable car that’s good on economy with good strategy.”
Whincup toiled through a frustrating start to the season, as did the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. However, the seven-time series champion bounced back at the last round in Ipswich on the Saturday to snap a 24-race winless streak.
Shane van Gisbergen, who will be partnered in the enduros by three-time Bathurst winner Garth Tander, carried over the pace at Queensland Raceway a day later and narrowly missed victory to season pacesetter Scott McLaughlin.
Lowndes said the change to the linear spring has hampered the factory Holden squad’s development this season, and acknowledged how well the new-for-2019 Ford Mustang has performed. However, he suggested the Holden squad is beginning to peak at the right time.
“They’re getting better. There’s no doubt about that,” Lowndes said of Triple Eight.
“It’s taken them a long time to get their heads around the change to the linear spring.
“People ask me why that is, well we spent eight years with the car designing around the duel spring, uprights, roll bars, roll centres, everything.
“Everything and anything we used to make the dual spring work, it’s taken everything back to scratch.
“It’s taken time for everything to unravel, but I think they’ve done a great job. The next meetings at Tailem Bend and New Zealand will be a telling factor to whether those improvements will continue.
“Knowing the team, and the way they operate, they’re definitely not going to stand still. They’re evolving and changing the car at every meeting.
“The last test day we did was very important for them as a team to unlock a few things, to try some unusual things that they’ve been wanting to try but wouldn’t dare try at a race weekend.”
As for the driver himself, Lowndes will jump in for the final co-driver session at the OTR SuperSprint next week.
Apart from the other co-driver sessions at Symmons Plains and Winton, the veteran’s only race time in 2019 came in February’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with Whincup and van Gisbergen in a Triple Eight Mercedes.
The Red Bull Holdens were brilliant at The Bend Motorsport Park 12 months ago, and Lowndes believes the co-driver session will provide him with a great chance to help the team remain on an upward trend.
“The team itself is confident they’ve found some things, but whether that translates into car speed at all tracks, that’s another matter,” he said.
“Every track’s different, and Tailem Bend will be a good challenge, they were strong there last year but the cars have evolved.
“Hopefully the co-driving session will be dry so I can give them some input and direction on where they need to be.
“It’s only going to be a matter of time if the consistency and speed is going to keep coming.”