SANDOWN wasn’t quite the success we’d hoped for, even if an eighth placed finish was good enough to retain third in the 2016 Supercars Championship.
Billed the ‘retro round’, our TeamVortex Commodore bore the white signage on red colours Caltex used to race back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s … there was also a bit of silliness going on with fake moustaches and various other retro fashion statements!
It was all a bit of fun and I think everyone would agree it was a great success, so hopefully it will return in 2017.
Out of the track we weren’t having quite as much fun.
Long story short we didn’t have the pace we expected in qualifying, so co-driver Steve Richards started the first sprint race where we qualified in 14th.
That then became dead last when two guys tangled in front of him, and while he missed the accident, he had to come to a dead stop to avoid damage. He rejoined at the back of the field and drove a strong race to finish 18th.
I hopped in then for the second sprint race and got us back to 12th, so slightly better than qualifying but not the top six start for Sunday’s Sandown 500 we’d been planning.
On Sunday the heavens opened, it was a wet start, then it dried, then it rained again and it was very cold all day … so the track was never a nice place to be.
Despite that, we got ourselves into the top six toward the end of the race but I made a mistake on my outlap (after a pitstop), slid off the road on cold tyres at a very tricky spot and almost got bogged in a sandtrap.
Rejoining, we’d lost a few spots and lots of time, and couldn’t recover beyond eighth.
As they say, “that’s motor racing” but I am still annoyed with myself!
LEADING INTO Sandown we were at Sydney Motorsport Park, better known to many as Eastern Creek.
Incredibly, I made my 600th Supercars/Touring Cars race start on the Sunday in Sydney, so to mark the occasion and generate some media for the event, Supercars handed out ‘Craig Lowndes face masks’ to the crowd!
I have to tell you, it’s very weird seeing your own face wandering around the place on every second person!
It was all done in good humour, and some of the fans were quite inventive too, so there were plenty of laughs.
On a serious side, it was very humbling that Supercars and the fans wanted to mark the milestone … even if the statistic was, in many ways, hard to believe.
I felt there, and still feel, like a young bloke who loves racing as much as ever, and I’ve no thoughts about doing anything else. So right now I reckon I’m good for another 600!
After finishing sixth on Saturday at Sydney Motorsport Park, Sunday’s 600th race was almost the fairy-tale you dream about.
I got a great start, the car hooked up and next thing you know I was going around the outside of Chaz (Mostert) for the lead at turn one.
The TeamVortex crew had done a great job with the car, and through the first half of the race I was comfortable out front.
But at the final (pit) stop Jamie (Whincup) needed fractionally less fuel (than me) and just nipped in front at the pit exit, and that was that.
He had a bit more speed and was able to get enough of a gap to prevent me challenging him, so second it was in my 600th start … I’m pretty happy with that.
IN THE DAYS before Sandown I found myself somewhere I never expected to be … at Parliament House in Canberra.
Caltex hosted a ‘Welcome Back to Parliament’ cocktail party for Government ministers, bureaucrats and the media, and had invited along a group of Caltex ambassadors.
Matildas Captain Claire Polkinghorne and former players Sarah Walsh and Sally Shiphard were joined by head coach Alan Stajcic, while from the Socceroos there was Brisbane Roar Captain Matt McKay and former players Brett Emerton and John Aloisi.
Renee Gracie joined me to represent Supercars.
Jessica Yates, well known to all of us as the host of FoxSport’s Supercars coverage, was MC for the night and Caltex CEO Julian Segal was among the speakers.
It was a great night, a fantastic opportunity to mingle with the country’s leaders, and get to know a bit more about a side of life far removed from what I do every day.
Maybe if I ever retire I could become a politician!
AS YOU READ this I’ll be on the road, for my annual Bathurst Boot Camp.
Every year Lara and I head away for 10 days or so before the Bathurst event itself, on an extended road trip that has us arriving at Mt Panorama a few days before the race.
The idea is to take a break from everything usually going on around me, chill out and relax, concentrate on my training, and do the tourist bit by towing our van through a different region every year.
We see some beautiful places and meet some great people along the way, and I’ve found it the perfect preparation for the biggest race of the year.
By arriving at Bathurst with my trusty caravan in tow, it also gives me a great base to stay in during race week that puts me right beside the team in the pits.
It’s much more comfortable, easier and more time efficient than having to go to and from a house or hotel in town every day.
We had a great Bathurst Boot Camp last year … here’s hoping the race result is the same this year!