Craig Lowndes has put himself firmly back in the V8 Supercars Championship title hunt with victory in the opening 140km race of the Sydney Motorsport Park 360.

The TeamVodafone driver kept Mark Winterbottom at bay finishing 1.4 seconds clear to secure his third straight victory and his fourth win of the year. Winterbottom stalked Lowndes for most of the race, but didn’t have the speed to mount a challenge, although the Orrcon Steel FPR driver was handed the championship lead for the first time this year after pole-man Jamie Whincup limped across the line in 23rd.

After fighting his way back to fourth following a horror start which saw him slip to seventh on the opening lap, Whincup then suffered a delaminating right rear tyre in the closing stages causing him to fall rapidly off the pace, and he plummeted down the order.

In contrast, Lowndes, starting from sixth got a great start, jumping his slow-starting teammate off the line. It was Tekno Autosports’ Jonathon Webb though, the only frontrunner on soft tyres, who took the early race lead from second, after a career-best qualifying performance.

Gambling on his incredible soft tyre form, Lowndes made the early pit-stop from third place on lap 11. Leapfrogging Winterbottom, he then overhauled Webb on lap 16 after the Tekno Autosports driver, who had a near 10-second lead three laps earlier, made a slow stop switching to the hard compound tyre.

Managing his tyres to the end, Lowndes was never headed, taking his third win in a row following his double success at Queensand Raceway.

Having entered the round more than 250 points behind, Lowndes pulled back more than 100 points from Whincup. The win also saw TeamVodafone extend its winning run to seven races.

“It’s great for Team Vodafone,” Lowndes said.

“We’ve been working hard to get to where FPR have been and the results have shown that. It’s a credit to JJ [Engineer, Jeromy Moore] who has given me a great car to drive.

“I was disappointed after qualifying but it’s great to turn it around. This is a part of the year I really enjoy and the car and team are performing really well.”

Tradingpost FPR Falcon’s Will Davison finished in third place, with Garth Tander storming through for fourth after making up ground from 13th in his opening stint on hard tyres. The Holden Racing Team (HRT) driver was followed home by Walkinshaw Racing stablemates Supercheap Auto Racing’s Russell Ingall and HRT’s James Courtney.

SP Tools Racing’s Shane van Gisbergen, Fujitsu Racing GRM’s Michael Caruso, Webb and Team BOC’s Jason Bright rounded out the top ten.

Winterbottom now leads Whincup by 20 points, with Davison a further 83 points behind. Lowndes remains in fourth with the top four cars covered by just 162 points ahead of Race 19 tomorrow.

Race 18 Results:

1 TeamVodafone Craig Lowndes Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:17.3122
2 Orrcon Steel FPR Ford Mark Winterbottom Ford Falcon FG 36 56:18.7733
3 Trading Post FPR Ford Will Davison Ford Falcon FG 36 56:30.7622
4 Holden Racing Team Garth Tander Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:38.3482
5 Supercheap Auto Racing Russell Ingall Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:38.5317
6 Holden Racing Team James Courtney Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:44.0430
7 SP Tools Racing Shane Van Gisbergen Ford Falcon FG 36 56:48.1816
8 Fujitsu Racing GRM Michael Caruso Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:49.3387
9 Tekno Autosports Jonathon Webb Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:50.0852
10 Team BOC Jason Bright Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:50.2532
11 Team Hiflex Tony D’Alberto Ford Falcon FG 36 56:53.1835
12 Lockwood Racing Fabian Coulthard Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:53.4706
13 The Bottle-O Racing Team David Reynolds Ford Falcon FG 36 56:56.0345
14 Jack Daniel’s Racing Todd Kelly Holden Commodore VE2 36 56:58.2977
15 Tekno Autosports Michael Patrizi Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:05.0072
16 Lucky 7 Racing Tim Slade Ford Falcon FG 36 57:07.2448
17 Jack Daniel’s Racing Rick Kelly Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:08.3690
18 Wilson Security Racing David Wall Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:12.5121
19 Team Norton DJR James Moffat Ford Falcon FG 36 57:19.8368
20 VIP Petfoods Steve Owen Ford Falcon FG 36 57:26.9615
21 Team iSelect Taz Douglas Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:30.2610
22 Fair Dinkum Sheds Racing Karl Reindler Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:31.8213
23 TeamVodafone Jamie Whincup Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:37.0393
24 Pepsi Max Crew Jaques Villeneuve Holden Commodore VE2 36 57:45.7235
25 Jim Beam Racing Dean Fiore Ford Falcon FG 35 57:04.0241
26 Irwin Racing Lee Holdsworth Ford Falcon FG 35 57:05.9577
27 Jim Beam Racing Steven Johnson Ford Falcon FG 35 57:21.7216
28 Fujitsu Racing GRM Alexandre Premat Holden Commodore VE2 34 56:25.2663