Lowndes rises as Whincup seals third V8 Supercars title
Craig Lowndes’ brave title challenge fell just short of denying Triple 8 Holden team-mate Jamie Whincup a third V8 Supercars championship, but victory and second in the decisive final two races were enough to secure an eight place rise in the Castrol EDGE Rankings.
Whincup led Lowndes by a sizeable 188 point margin heading into the weekend’s finale in Sydney, the pair having occupied the championship top two for much of the season.
Lowndes kept his faint title hopes alive with a crucial victory in the opening race. A spin in the qualifying top 10 shootout had looked disastrous, but in a race shaped by incidents, safety cars and fuel strategy he slowly worked his way to the front.
Whincup meanwhile had to pit for damage repairs and could only finish 20th, setting up a tense finale where Lowndes could win the title if Whincup finished 12th or lower.
That looked a prospect after the opening stages when the pair, along with several others, made the gamble to start on wets in greasy, damp conditions.
By lap 12 the track suited slicks and, after pitting, Lowndes rejoined in 15th and Whincup in 20th.
They worked their way back through the field but on the final round of pit stops Whincup was delayed and tumbled to 17th, with Lowndes able to get out in eighth.
Both drivers charged forward and Lowndes eventually moved into second, finishing just seven tenths behind race winner Mark Winterbottom.
Whincup though had also made progress and had soon reached the top 12 berth he needed to secure the title. He continued to make gains, eventually coming home eighth.
While the championship battle therefore went down to the wire, battle for supremacy in the Castrol EDGE Rankings was less dramatic with Whincup already assured of top billing in the V8 Supercars standings.
Having retired and finished fifth in last year’s Sydney finale, Whincup was able to gain points in the Rankings despite a relatively low key weekend. He stayed 60th, comfortably top.
Lowndes gained eight places to break back into the top 100, 93rd coming close to his highest ever ranking which he achieved in August and September this year.
93rd was also enough to secure Lowndes the runner-up spot in the V8 Supercars Rankings, with race two winner Mark Winterbottom – who rose 13 places following the weekend – third, 122nd overall.
Tim Slade made the biggest gains of any driver inside the top 25, as tenth and sixth in the two races earned him a rise of 34 places to 241st, his highest ever position.
Moving the other way was Lee Holdsworth, who paid the price for his outstanding performance at Sydney last season. Unable to match the brace of poles and one victory he scored in 2010, a DNF and a 14th saw Holdsworth tumble 33 spots to 231st.