Craig Lowndes is about to revive his grand prix dream.
Formula One was his target when he first went racing, and he has dabbled a couple of times in demonstrations, but now he is going against the clock for the first time at The Bend in South Australia.
Lowndes is strapping into a retired Dallara F189 that was originally raced by F1 firebrand Andrea de Cesaris, who took it into the top 10 run at the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide 1989 before crashing.
“I’m not looking to make a Formula One comeback, but it is really exciting to be having a run,” Lowndes tells Race.news.
“I spent my whole junior career trying to get to to Formula One. It didn’t happen, but I’ve driven a few cars. It will be good to go against the clock.”
Lowndes is starring in The Bend Classic and is expected to re-write the track record and trim more than seven seconds from the best Supercars lap time owned by his Red Bull Ampol racing team mate Shane van Gisbergen.
His Dallara won the Classic last year with its owner Sam Shahin driving and it will be rolled out with a number of other retired F1 cars including a Footworks that has lapped The Bend – where SvG timed at 1 minute 16.334 seconds – in 1:10.08.
The legendary Supercars racer’s F1 plan stalled after a single troubled season of Formula 3000 racing in Europe in 1997, where he drove alongside Juan Pablo Montoya in a team owned by Red Bull’s F1 expert Dr Helmut Marko. When the boss of the Holden Racing Team, the late Tom Walkinshaw, pulled his funding because of poor results it meant Lowndes returned to build his stellar career in Supercars.
It was a Supercars connection that allowed him to drive an F1 car in a ‘trading-places’ promotional event at Bathurst with Jenson Button. With Vodafone sponsoring both the Triple Eight and McLaren teams, he was able to jump into the grand prix car.
“It was actually Lewis Hamilton’s car. It was exciting, even if it was just a demonstration. That was probably the last time I drove an F1 car fast,” Lowndes recalls.
He has been in F1 cars for low-speed demonstrations during the Adelaide Motorsports Festival, but the event at The Bend is much more competitive. It’s run to a super-sprint format, not racing but timed laps, with a Top 10 Shootout on Sunday afternoon.
“When Sam called me I jumped in straight away. Any time you get to drive a Formula One car is definitely exciting. I think a couple of the corners will be flat, like the last one onto the straight, so it will be good to feel the ground effects.
“I’m doing it to have a bit of fun, but there is the lap record …”
Lowndes says he is not affected by Covid-19 restrictions because he is flying from Brisbane to Adelaide, but will isolate in the on-site hotel at The Bend until he gets a clear Covid test.
The F1 runs as he is looking forward to more driving outside Supercars, including his full championship program this year in the Carrera Cup.
“I’ve got more opportunities now to do things. It’s great to have the freedom to be able to do things that I couldn’t do when I was full-time in Supercars,” he says.
“I believe the Porsches will align with whatever is happening in Supercars to the end of this year. I keep hearing lots of things, but nothing is confirmed.”
But Lowndes is hoping to continue in Carrera Cup next year and still has a year to run on his co-driving contract with The Bulls. He will partner Jamie Whincup this year at Bathurst, regardless of the date, but is not sure about 2022.
“I’m contracted for next year. But I still don’t know what the driver line-up will be next year. The telling factor will be if Jamie decides to be a co-driver. If that’s the case then they will probably run a Wildcard again and I’ll be in that car.”