Q&A with Craig Lowndes: Consistency, COTF…and Cappy!

V8 Supercars star Craig Lowndes
V8 Supercars star Craig Lowndes at the start of the Classic Monte Carlo Rally in Glasgow

A three-time V8 Supercar champion and five-time winner of the Bathurst 1000, Craig Lowndes is one of the Australia’s most recognisable motorsport figures. Never driving at anything less than 100 per cent, his razor-sharp driving skills have cemented him as one of the undisputed greatest drivers the V8 Supercars series has seen. But his approachability and likeability along with his driving ability have made him one of the most popular too, and not just in Australia. That was certainly evident in Glasgow recently.

Lowndes had made the 10,000 mile trip to Scotland to take part in the 2013 Monte Carlo Classic Rally, sixty years after three of the biggest names in Australian motorsport of the day Tony Gaze, Lex Davison and Stan Jones took an almost completely standard (1951) Holden FX 48-125 over to Europe to compete in the Monte Carlo Rally, marking Holden’s first ever foray into international competition.

Much more at home in a six-speed, five-litre, 650 horsepowered V8 Holden, Lowndes traded his car and the track for the snow-covered roads of the UK and Northern Europe, joining forces with Richard Davison (son of Lex Davison) and Gary Poole to pay tribute to the impressive efforts of their racing forebears, re-enacting the gruelling 2000 mile (3200 km) journey in a replica of the car that had won the hearts of Glaswegians in 1953. The number of cars may have been smaller than that year’s event, but the excitement was no less contagious as Lowndes, brimming with enthusiasm about the new challenge, was in constant demand from the media and motorsport fans alike.

V8SCGlobal met with Lowndes ahead of the start to chat about the rally, but more importantly, to talk about V8 Supercars and what the upcoming season has in store.

V8SCGlobal: You’re about to head off in a replica 1953 Holden Sedan to Monte Carlo. It seems so far removed from anything you’ve done before. How did you get involved in this?

CL: It is, but it’s something that for me is a lot of fun, recreating history of what the three drivers Stan Jones, Lex Davison and Tony Gaze did 60 years ago. Gary [Poole] who’s one of the drivers, put it all together and got in contact with us early last year and laid out what he wanted to do. I knew about the original Monte Carlo Rally as a child growing up and once I got an opportunity to be a part of the Classic Monte Carlo Rally, it was a little bit like a dream come true And to be able to drive from Glasgow all the way down through England, get the ferry across to Calais and then to drive all the way down into Monte Carlo itself will be quite special. We’re going to try and re-enact a lot of the photos that they did 60 years ago along the way. So, to be part of all that and be part of the history, and to have Richard Davison, the son of Lex, part of the family tradition and the history, I think it’s going to be quite special.

V8SCGlobal: Can you give us an idea of what will happen over the next three days? Is there a sense of a journey into the unknown, not knowing the car, the roads or indeed what the weather might throw at you?

CL: All the above! I’ve done dirt rally back in Australia, obviously circuit racing and everything else, but never done something like this. This will be the first time that I’ve ever done a bitumen rally and I’m going to be very much a novice, but it’s the excitement of the journey, the pace notes, navigations, weather conditions, road conditions and the roads themselves. For all three of us and everyone involved, it’s very much a mission to just finish. That’s our key objective, to get to Monte Carlo. We’d love to obviously get a great result, but the main objective is to achieve what they did 60 years ago. And then once we get to Monte Carlo, I’m sure we’ll look back on what we’ve achieved.

V8SCGlobal: Does doing one-off events like this, racing overseas etc. help your career or is it more to allow you to blow off steam and come back refreshed?

CL: I think it’s probably blowing off steam more than anything. I think that’s really it for me being very different from what I’m used to. To drive a 1951 FX 48 215 Holden which has got drum brakes, 3-speed gearbox and weighs in a little bit less, at about 900 kilos, in comparison with a V8 Supercar which is 1355 kilos, with 650 horsepower, 6-speed gearbox, disc-brakes, it’s just very different to what this is all about. For me, this is just a lot of fun. To actually be a part of something that’s creating and re-enacting a bit of history and going through towns and places and meeting a lot of people that I wouldn’t probably have the opportunity to do unless I’d done something like this.

V8SCGlobal: How much of your life is taken by up by V8 Supercars and what do you like doing outside of the sport?

CL: The V8 Supercars are heading into a new era with the Car of the Future, so we’re busily building cars and getting ready for this year. The team themselves are pretty well-prepared for the start of the season. Everything’s pretty busy, but I’ve got the ability to go and do other things like this. For me this is a great distraction to get away from it all and course, I’m enjoying the relaxing and being able to do a bit of sight-seeing. We were lucky enough to go to Prague, Berlin and look around before we came to Glasgow. The team have allowed me to have that bit of freedom, as long as I don’t hurt myself, and the boss [Roland Dane] is from Ireland, so he very much knows the history of the Monte Carlo Rally. He was a fan and quite happy for me to be part of it. We’ve got a busy programme though. We literally get to Monte Carlo and the next day we’re on a plane back to Australia as I’m competing in the 12-hour race at Bathurst for Audi [the following weekend]. Then on the Monday after that we’re testing the new Holden. So it’s a pretty busy time at the moment.

V8SCGlobal: How much time have you spent in the new generation car and what excites you the most about it?

CL: We’ve been lucky enough that we’ve had a fairly good break between last season and this, but we’ve already had a couple of test days in the new car and we’ll get a couple more before we start. It’s everything new – the new car itself, there’s very big structural change, with the transaxle gearbox being put to the back, the independent rear end, the 18-inch wheels, bigger brakes, bigger tyres, new aerodynamics, so all that I think for us is quite exciting and for a category it’s quite amazing to go into that next generation. And it’ll be interesting to see what the next couple of years brings with all the new change and cars and Nissan and Mercedes coming on board. I think that Mercedes will be pretty well ready to go. I think Nissan, from what I can see, are a little behind the eight ball, but I’m sure, no doubt that come Clipsal they’ll be ready.

V8SCGlobal: This will be your ninth season with Triple Eight Race Engineering, does that consistency help?

CL: There’s no doubt. When I originally went to Triple Eight there were a number of things that attracted me to the team – the location, the dedication and the way they build cars and that’s why I’m still there. We’ve got a great relationship and we’ve got the consistency over those years. We’ve formed a family atmosphere. My engineer I’ve been with for several years now. He understands me. He takes the good, the bad and the ugly and of course we’ve had a couple of tremendous years with having one-two finishes last year and the year before. Really the team couldn’t be any better.

V8SCGlobal: Do you think it’s that given the team the recent edge over its competitors?

CL: Yes and no. I think it does have an element of that but also an element that it comes from the top, the leader. Roland [Dane] is very passionate, dedicated motor-racing person and personality. He does drive for bigger and greater results every year. Every time we succeed he wants more, which is always difficult to accomplish, but we manage to keep pushing ourselves to newer heights. I think that when you’ve got a leader like that, that’s so passionate about the sport, he’s been able to create and orchestrate a team at Triple Eight around us and I think it’s a true indication about who we are.

V8SCGlobal: How much of a competitive atmosphere is there between you and Jamie Whincup?

CL: Look, there’s no doubt. Jamie’s won the last couple of years. I’ve finished second to him. We’ve got a great relationship and we get on really well, but we do push each other extremely hard in the sense of whenever he goes faster I want to go faster and vice versa. But when we push ourselves, we push the team to extend and develop, and then of course it’s just a snowballing effect. It’s a healthy relationship that we have but a very, very competitive one.

V8SCGlobal: You spent a year or so in Europe in 1997 racing in Formula 3000, what are your memories of that time?

CL: Fantastic! I lived in Graz in Austria for 11 months racing all over Europe, so for me for me it’s been a bit of a journey back in time. I didn’t get where I wanted to be, which was Formula One, but to come back now and to relive, and I suppose now I’m a bit older, understand and appreciate a bit more the history of the countries we’ve been through and see new parts of Europe has been great. And I’ve never been up here before, so yeah, it’s been fantastic to have a look around.

V8SCGlobal: You’ve certainly a lot of experience racing outside V8 Supercars, but is there any other category you’d like to have a go at, that you haven’t done yet?

CL: I’d still love to do Le Mans 24 Hour. There are still other races I’d love to be part of but I really enjoy and love the long-distance races. That’s why I love Bathurst so much, so anything that has a 12 hour, 24 hour element to it, I’d love to be part of and at least be able to say that I’ve attempted it. We’re working pretty hard with Audi to try to do the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife. Anything like that, but the Le Mans 24 Hour is probably my ultimate race that I still haven’t been able to achieve.

V8SCGlobal: Part of what we’re trying to do is showcase the V8 Supercars Championship to new motorsport fans in the Northern Hemisphere, could you describe the series for someone just getting into V8 Supercars?

CL: It’s a very competitive category. It’s a fun category. We’re very much a family circus that travels all over Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and we go to America this year for the first time. We all get on extremely well. We all help each other out, but we are very competitive. The cars are quite unique to drive because of the nature of the build. They’re a big, heavy car. Good horsepower, little wheels, we burn up our tyres extremely fast which also gives it that great attraction with cars moving around. We have the ultimate contact between car to car which again makes it exciting. To get involved with the V8 Supercars and motor racing side of it for me it’s been my life and a huge journey of developing and being able to see different parts of the world. The BTCC was such a strong force in the 1990s and the early 2000s, but then you know where it is now, and we’re very mindful of that, going in to that sort of stage with Nissan and Mercedes, making sure that we’ll still maintain a very strong, competitive category which is what we’ve always been known for.

V8SCGlobal: Finally, that Red Bull Racing video we thought it was brilliant. How much fun was it to make?

CL: It was amazing! It was a lot of fun to produce and to film. To be able to tell our boss where to go and what to do was even better! Obviously we lost Vodafone at the end of last year after six years, but Red Bull have come on which has been fantastic and I’m really looking forward to the on-going relationship. We’re sending stuff back to Red Bull via this, which is the first thing we’ve been able to be part of with them. Red Bull are very much leftfield. They love having a bit of a laugh and have a bit of character and personality and I think the teaser showed that and I think we’ll definitely have a lot of fun developing, learning and working with Red Bull that’s for sure.

V8SCGlobal: And can we expect to see ‘Cappy’ and co. again?

CL: There hasn’t been much talk of it, but there’s rumours of expanding the video clips, so we’ll have to sit and wait, but I’ve no doubt ‘Cappy’ and all the characters will come back somewhere during the year!