Craig Lowndes at the SKYCITY Triple Crown in Darwin Photo credit: TeamVodafone

Craig Lowndes at the SKYCITY Triple Crown in Darwin Photo credit: TeamVodafone

Craig Lowndes has re-ignited his title challenge taking his first win of the 2012 V8 Supercar Championship after a late-race raid at the SKYCITY Triple Crown in Darwin.

Lowndes passed his team-mate Jamie Whincup with just three laps remaining to lead home the TeamVodafone one-two after the duo ignored an early safety car, gambling on a conventional two-stop strategy.

“We struggled a little bit in the early stage of the race on the hard tyre, and Jamie was able to get a gap on us,” said Lowndes.

“We were going backwards in a hurry once everyone else got on soft tyres. We elected to stay out to split out the next two runs we had to do. Once we put the soft tyre on it was quick – the car is looking after its tyres really well, especially the soft tyre, so I can get the best out of it.

“We went into the last stint with a lot of confidence knowing that we had a green tyre; we wanted to leave a brand new set for the race and make sure we were in a position to use it.

“It's been fantastic and it's been a long time since TeamVodafone has had a 1-2 finish, so it's a good reward for all the boys who have been working so hard.”

The race started with a scare for Michael Caruso, who stalled his Fujitsu Racing Commodore on the line after qualifying fifth, but incredibly, all 22 cars behind avoided his stricken car.

Meanwhile, Mark Winterbottom took the lead from pole-sitter Will Davison on lap two in a move that proved pivotal after Team BOC's Jason Bright and David Russell clashed on lap eight. With the safety car deployed to recover Russell's Pepsi Max Crew Commodore, the Ford Performance Racing team decided to stop all three of its drivers and make the switch to soft tyres. This left Davison to queue behind Winterbottom and costing the Tradingpost FPR driver six places.

Whincup, Lowndes, James Courtney (Holden Racing Team) and Jonathon Webb (Tekno Autosports) were the only four drivers opting not to pit under the safety car, putting them on a two-stop strategy to the other leading contenders three.

With fresher soft tyres Orrcon Steel FPR's Winterbottom moved up from fifth, retaking the lead from Whincup by Lap 19. Whincup then made his first stop six laps later, putting in a shorter middle stint to clear his Ford rival in the final round of stops.

Before making his first stop, Lowndes had fallen back to 11th struggling on the hard tyres, but climbing to third by lap 42 and conserving his tyres during the middle stint of the race, Lowndes pitted later than his team-mate, taking on a brand new set of soft tyres for the run home.

With 15 laps to go, Lowndes began his late charge passing Michael Caruso for third on lap 55, then overhauling Winterbottom for second place four laps later. He then quickly closed the gap on Whincup, with the pair nose to tail on lap 63. Six laps later, he pounced taking the lead at Turn 6 to a massive reception from the crowd. Lowndes crossed the line just 0.9s from Whincup giving TeamVodafone a clean sweep of this weekends' races – and their first 1-2 of the year.

With Ford rivals Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison finishing third and sixth respectively, Whincup's second place finish sees him extend his Championship lead over Davison to 38 points.

After stalling at the start from fifth on the grid and falling to the rear of the field, Michael Caruso finished in a remarkable fourth. The 28-year old got himself back into contention after pitting at the safety car and stretching out his soft tyres to lap 42.

Fabian Coulthard finished fifth for Lockwood Racing ahead of Davison, with Shane van Gisbergen (SP Tools Racing), David Reynolds (The Bottle-O Racing Team), Garth Tander (Holden Racing Team) and Tim Slade (Lucky 7 Racing) rounding out the top ten.

The 2012 V8 Supercars Championship continues in three weeks' time with the Sucrogen Townsville 400.

Race 13 result:

1 Craig Lowndes TeamVodafone Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:29:04.4833
2 Jamie Whincup TeamVodafone Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:29:05.4210
3 Mark Winterbottom Orrcon Steel FPR Ford Ford Falcon FG 69 01:29:20.7720
4 Michael Caruso Fujitsu Racing GRM Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:29:21.1985
5 Fabian Coulthard Lockwood Racing Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:29:26.1714
6 Will Davison Trading Post FPR Ford Ford Falcon FG 69 01:29:32.4473
7 Shane Van Gisbergen SP Tools Racing Ford Falcon FG 69 01:29:35.8755
8 David Reynolds The Bottle-O Racing Team Ford Falcon FG 69 01:29:40.6670
9 Garth Tander Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:29:52.2907
10 Tim Slade Lucky 7 Racing Ford Falcon FG 69 01:29:56.7033
11 James Courtney Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:29:58.7140
12 Lee Holdsworth Irwin Racing Ford Falcon FG 69 01:30:00.7711
13 Jason Bright Team BOC Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:30:01.4984
14 Todd Kelly Jack Daniel's Racing Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:30:02.5013
15 Jonathon Webb Tekno Autosports Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:30:07.4769
16 Taz Douglas Team iSelect Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:30:13.5817
17 Dean Fiore Jim Beam Racing Ford Falcon FG 69 01:30:18.1799
18 Michael Patrizi Tekno Autosports Holden Commodore VE2 69 01:30:23.5965
19 Steven Johnson Jim Beam Racing Ford Falcon FG 68 01:29:08.4745
20 Alexandre Premat Fujitsu Racing GRM Holden Commodore VE2 68 01:29:23.8489
21 Tony D'Alberto Team Hiflex Ford Falcon FG 68 01:29:41.5851
22 Steve Owen VIP Petfoods Ford Falcon FG 67 01:29:44.2192
23 Rick Kelly Jack Daniel's Racing Holden Commodore VE2 67 01:30:14.5503
DNF Karl Reindler Fair Dinkum Sheds Racing Holden Commodore VE2 45 01:00:14.4437
DNF James Moffat Team Norton DJR Ford Falcon FG 44 01:12:39.9018
DNF David Wall Wilson Security Racing Holden Commodore VE2 13 19:46.5432
DNF David Russell Pepsi Max Crew Holden Commodore VE2 7 8:40.7800
DNF Russell Ingall Supercheap Auto Racing Holden Commodore VE2