NEWS that Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup will partner for the 2017 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour reunites one of the most successful combinations to tackle endurance racing on the Mountain.
That may read like a bold statement but in four years of racing together the two members of the Supercars ‘100 club’ created a crushing record on that Bathurst hill.
In 2006 the pair joined forces for the first time behind the wheel of a Triple Eight Racing Falcon in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and dramatically won the race – a particularly emotional victory for Lowndes given it came just a month after the passing of his mentor, Peter Brock.
That set the duo on a remarkable three-year winning stretch that included victories in 2007 and 2008 and only legends of the sport named Brock, Richards and Perkins have done the same.
Craig and Jamie only raced together four times at Bathurst: They finished fifth in 2009 but were separated the next year when the rule makers deemed that full-time drivers could no longer share the same car in the annual endurance races.
Still, that didn’t stop their winning records from ticking over. Lowndes won again in 2010 (with Mark Skaife) and 2016 (with Steven Richards) while Whincup teamed with Paul Dumbrell to win the 2012 race, and led the 2014 epic until half way through the final lap..
Both will naturally be considered among the favorites in this October’s race.
Of course, success in the Bathurst 1000 doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate form in February’s around-the-clock enduro: since the GT era commenced in 2011 only Lowndes has been able to back up his 1000km successes with a 12 Hour victory (though Paul Morris did it the other way around, winning the 12-Hour in 2007 and 2010 before this first Bathurst 1000 win came four years later). And Whincup is yet to sample Bathurst, enduro-style, in anything other than a Supercar so naturally faces a significant learning curve.
And yet, every driver will tell you that there’s no substitute for experience at Bathurst so there’s no question Lowndes and Whincup are lacking in that department. And no one in the Supercars paddock will suggest that the six-time champion won’t quickly adapt to left-hand-drive, paddle shifts, traction control and the 488’s aero performance. They all know what he can do.
The fact they have been signed by Maranello Motorsport backs up their performance credentials, too, because the the Melbourne-based Ferrari team has been a staple of the race since it switched to GT cars.
In 2014 they famously (if narrowly) delivered Ferrari their first major enduro victory at Bathurst, while front row starts (pole in 2012 and second in 2013) and fastest laps (2012) back up their proven Bathurst pace.
Team Boss Mark Coffey, a passionate exponent of the race, has worked hard to piece together the program this year along with his longstanding supporters, like 2014 winner Pete Edwards.
The sidelines support from Triple Eight – in the form of an engineer and perhaps some additional hands on the spanners – will also be a benefit to the already experienced Ferrari team. And Ferrari don’t tend to hire slow drivers, so the third component of the driving squad will be certain to be competitive.
The rule change for 2017, allowing cars with fully professional driving squads, was always going to create a buzz among teams looking to piece together the ultimate trio to help them win the race.
It is safe to say other outfits will have to work hard to find a combination that can match – let alone beat – the ‘dynamic duo’ and the factory fly-in to be assembled in the stable of the Prancing Horse.
Over to you, Nissan, BMW..
PHOTO: Red Bull Racing
WORDS: Richard Craill for bathurst12hour.com.au