Day 1 of the Watpac Townsville 400 from Reid Park. Triple Eight Racing Team driver Craig Lowndes announces his retirement from Supercars racing at the end of the 2018 Supercars series. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Day 1 of the Watpac Townsville 400 from Reid Park. Triple Eight Racing Team driver Craig Lowndes announces his retirement from Supercars racing at the end of the 2018 Supercars series. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Departing legend Craig Lowndes drops Bathurst warning

THE signs are ominous for the crack Triple Eight team's rivals ahead of Sunday's Bathurst 1000.

But their retirement-bound veteran Craig Lowndes says recent Supercars form will mean little at Mount Panorama - and he would know.

Ahead of his 25th and final Bathurst campaign as a full-time driver, Lowndes has experienced the Great Race's highs and lows on his way to emerging King of the Mountain six times.

The 44-year-old understands the recipe for success in the 161-lap classic on the mountain - and he has warned his Triple Eight team they haven't got all the ingredients yet.

Not that you could tell by Triple Eight's assault on the last Supercars round, the Sandown 500, which serves as an endurance lead-in to Bathurst.

Seven-time series champion Jamie Whincup kept his championship hopes alive by leading a Triple Eight sweep of the podium, finishing almost half a minute ahead of "best of the rest" Ford gun Scott McLaughlin.

Whincup claimed victory with series leader Shane van Gisbergen second and Lowndes third.

Triple Eight's effortless win appeared to be a dagger in the heart for DJR Team Penske's McLaughlin.

The former championship leader was a shattered man after Sandown as van Gisbergen extended his series lead over McLaughlin by 55 points, even accusing Triple Eight of having an unfair speed advantage.

But Lowndes' sobering warning for his team provides encouragement for McLaughlin and others ahead of the 161-lap classic.

"Sandown was a magical finish for the team but Bathurst is a completely different beast," Lowndes told AAP.

Craig Lowndes is shaping up for a fairytale finish.
Craig Lowndes is shaping up for a fairytale finish.

"And last year team Penske (McLaughlin) were the car to beat. "There's no doubt they will want to turn their Sandown result around." Lowndes baulked at McLaughlin's claim Triple Eight enjoyed a straight-line speed advantage, saying even if they did it would mean little at Bathurst. "I think it is very hard to take anything out of Sandown," he said. "Everyone was talking us up because of our results there but it was not a true indicator of what Bathurst will look like.

"You've got to be confident you have a car that flows at the top of the mountain, not just straight line handling.

"And there are a lot of elements to get right. Lap one is completely different to lap 161.

"It's not just who is fastest. You need a bit of luck too.

"Then there's strategy and the co-drivers (performance). At the end of the day, you just hope that after the last rotation of pit stops you are in the top three fighting it out." It won't be Lowndes' last crack at the mountain.

The three-time series champion will retire from full-time racing at season's end but will return next year as a Triple Eight co-driver for the three enduro rounds of which Bathurst is the pinnacle.

It ensures Lowndes remains on track to reel in his idol, Peter Brock, who famously claimed a record nine Great Race wins.

The 44-year-old is chasing seven wins.
The 44-year-old is chasing seven wins.

If victorious this year, Lowndes will join Jim Richards - father of his current co-driver Steven - on equal second in the Bathurst all-time victory list with seven.

"Any time you win Bathurst it is special. I would rather win a Bathurst title than a championship," said Lowndes, who sits fourth in the championship. "It would be a massive achievement with Richo in our fifth year together. "We won in 2015. We know what it feels like. It would be nice to turn that six into a seven." History shows Bathurst is anyone's race to win.

Lowndes had shared in four victories in five years by 2010 but since 2011 there have been six different winners.