Australian motorsport icon Craig Lowndes and expat Kiwi Steve Richards have bounced back from an indifferent lead-up to take a popular victory at the 2015 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 for Red Bull Racing Australia.
Finishing in second was Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen in the sole remaining Pepsi Max Racing Falcon, after having a tumultuous day which included a pit lane penalty for malfunctioning brake lights, then a subsequent 15-second penalty for not taking the initial penalty on the lap specified by officialdom.
The battle for third was the main talking point over the final laps, Garth Tander in the leading Holden Racing Team Commodore successfully holding off a determined charge from Kiwi Fabian Coulthard. Coulthard was one of several drivers to benefit from the fading pace of David Reynolds (Bottle-O Racing Falcon). Coulthard believed that given a few more laps, he and co-driver Luke Youlden would've made the podium.
"I had to have a crack. Dave [Reynolds] made an error, and that was my opportunity, and if I didn't do that then someone would've had a crack at me. So I don't have too many regrets — drove the wheels off it and the best we could do was fourth," Coulthard told Driven.co.nz.
"[Garth] came back to me, so I was able to catch him. But I was unable to get past. Just didn't quite have enough laps ... I'm not too disappointed with the speed we've had all weekend. We were good enough to be on the podium, but didn't quite have the luck. But fourth's not too bad."
Coulthard was one of a trio of Kiwis that dominated proceedings early, with Volvo pilot Scott McLaughlin leading the opening stint as the first wave of pit stops approached — countrymen Shane van Gisbergen (Tekno Autosports) and Coulthard (Freightliner Racing) both rounding up pole man David Reynolds in the early laps.
The complexion of the race changed significantly on lap 92, when rain took over Mount Panorama. The changing conditions prompted the entire field to change over to wet tyres over a two lap period. Jamie Whincup, who had taken the lead, was the main benefactor; gaining ten seconds during the pit stop circus.
On the flip side, the timing of the rain worked against van Gisbergen and his co-driver Jonathan Webb. Having already lost time, the team would eventually lose even more time due to Webb not meeting the minimum driving time requirements after surrendering driving duties during the stop for wet tyres. van Gisbergen was able to march from 14th to fifth over a short period, wowing the crowd with his well-known wet-weather skill set. But the extra stop to place Webb back behind the wheel ended their chances of redemption for coming up short in 2014.
While van Gisbergen was able to fight on, two Kiwis who had been relegated to the sidelines were Super Black Racing's André Heimgartner and Ant Pedersen. Having started the race from 12th, Heimgartner had made a solid impression in the opening minutes — causing gasps from the crowd when he aimed to take on a poor-starting Paul Dumbrell on the front straight.
But their race came to a violent end, early into Pedersen's first stint, the car incurring significant damage after being spun following contact from Lucas Dumbrell Racing's Karl Reindler, while trying to make a move on Brad Jones Racing's Macauley Jones.
"I just got on the outside of another car, and ran two-wide through turn one. He didn't make it easy, and then old mate behind us got a run and just served us in the left rear. It spun me straight into the wall and I couldn't do anything," explained Pedersen. Scott Pye and Marcos Ambrose(Dick Johnson Racing) also had their race ended due to violent circumstances, Pye crashing heavily at Reid Park on lap 138.
Whincup's stranglehold on the race fell apart during Pye's caution, after he was ruled to have passed the safety car under yellow-flag conditions. The penalty pushed him from the lead to 19th, and promoted Lowndes to first position — where he would remain until the end of the race.
After his early pace, Scott McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat eventually finished in fifth, with Reynolds/Canto, Bright/Jones, van Gisbergen/Webb, Holdsworth/Bourdais, and Moffat/Douglas rounding out the top ten
Lowndes' Bathurst winning count now increases to six, the Triple 8 driver now alongside Mark Skaife and Larry Perkins in the Bathurst record books.
The series now moves to Surfers Paradise in two weeks time for the Gold Coast 600, the final round on the endurance calendar.