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Virgin Australia Supercar champion and crowd favourite, Craig Lowndes has announced that 2018 will be his last year as a full time driver in the Virgin Australia Supercar Championship. An often tearful Lowndes made the call alongside Triple 8 principal, Roland Dane and Supercars CEO Sean Seamer in a Friday morning press conference at the Watpac Townsville 400.

During the conference Lowndes stated that he was relieved the the announcement had finally been made.

“We’ve been sitting on this for a couple of weeks and everywhere I’ve traveled, everywhere I’ve been, the fans have been fantastic as normal. Obviously for us it’s timely to be able to get this out, to be able to spend the next six months enjoying what is Supercars and where we go and what we do. Once both Roland and I made that decision about stepping down and retiring from full-time driving, we wanted to get it out earlier rather than later, so we can all get organised for next year.”

“To be honest, Roland and I have had pretty frank chats over the last sort of six to eight months,” he said.“Roland and I have spoken pretty candidly and frankly about finishing my time in the car on a high and, as I said, we’ve still got a contract for another 18 months, but this is the year. We’re having a stellar year, we’ve had a pole position for the team, we’ve had a win, podiums, and we can probably like to think we can do it again next year, but who knows? We know that this is the right time for me. It was something that, a couple of weeks ago we sat down for our final meeting and basically came to the conclusion that we both think this is the right time for me to step down and to move on.”

Social media went into melt down mode once the conference had come to a close with a combination of shock and anger. Lowndes’ announcement bears similarities to the one made by Supercar legend and Craig’s early mentor, Peter Brock. It was Brock who taught Lowndes a great deal about the sport and the importance of a positive relationship with fans, a quality which has endeared him to motorsport fans across the globe, regardless of brand loyalty.

Craig Lowndes first came to public notice with some outstanding results in the Australian Formula Ford Championship, while and unexpected opportunity at the 1994 Bathurst 1000 saw him finish 2nd to the Shell Falcon of Dick Johnson and John Bowe.  An audacious pass on Bowe during the final stages of the race earmarked Lowndes as a driver of the future.

He entered the 1996 Supercar championship as a full time driver for the first time and completed a remarkable hat trick of wins; the 1996 Australian Touring Car Championship, Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000.

Lowndes moved to Europe in 1997 for an assault on the International F3000 Championship in the RSM Marko team as teammate to Juan Pablo Montoya. The European experience was a real eye opener as he came across a very different mentality. A best result of 4th at Enna was not enough to keep Craig in Europe and he returned to Australia at the end of the season. He replaced the retiring Peter Brock at HRT for 1998.

Craig Lowndes took back to back titles in 1998 and 1999, despite a huge crash at Calder Park, which left him with knee damage/ Lowndes missed the following round at Symmons Plains as he recovered from surgery for his damaged knee, but still managed to claim the title.

Lowndes’ huge crash at Calder Park caught by Velocity’s John Morris

Lowndes switched brand allegiance from Holden to Ford for the 2001 season amidst rumours of conflicts within the wall of the HRT. Normally such a move would cause upheaval in the feudal system of V8 racing. Yet Lowndes‘ character and public profile saw his fan base swell. After 9 years with the blue oval, Triple 8 racing changed from Fords to Holdens and Lowndes was once more the darling of the red brigade. Craig was unable to win another Supercar championship since the change, however he did win 5 Bathurst 1000 races between 2006 and 2015.

He has achieved further success, like Brock in GT racing at the Mountain with victory at the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2014 and 2017. GT Racing had become a second favourite for Lowndes and he has driven a range of GT machinery, from Ferrari 488 and Audi R8 to the McLaren 650s and Reiter Camaro. A drive at the Le Mans 24 Hour has been a dream for Lowndes, with the announcement opening the opportunity for a drive at the iconic race.

It was announced that Craig Lowndes will continue to work with Triple 8 racing as an ambassador and co-driver for the endurance events, which also opens the door for him to partner Jamie Whincup, the pair completed a hat trick of victories at Bathurst from 2006-2008.

Velocity Magazine has enjoyed the banter and photography with Craig over the years, his smiling face will be missed, there is nothing better than photographing Lowndsey with his big grin when taking off his helmet after a win or even just a finish!  Thanks for the memories ‘mate’ and we are glad you are sticking around and not falling off the edge of the motorsport world.

John Morris & Darin Mandy – Velocity Motorsport Magazine

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