Craig Lowndes led from flag to finish to win the opening race of the Coates Hire Ipswich 300 at Queensland Raceway today and with it his second win of the season.
Lowndes got a strong start off the line and drove an almost perfect race, maintaining the race lead throughout. Crossing the line 1.7s clear of Orrcon Steel FPR’s Mark Winterbottom and TeamVodafone team-mate Jamie Whincup at the end of a 45 lap encounter, Lowndes extended his remarkable run at Ipswich. The win marked his fourth consecutive victory and 10th at the circuit, after he swept the round last year.
It was a positive end to what could easily have been a dramatic day in the TeamVodafone garage, after Lowndes suffered an engine failure during practice.
“I want to say the car was perfect, but I know there is some more improvement in it tomorrow,” said Lowndes.
“I suppose we’ve been a bit relaxed in past years because it’s our home test track, but this year and last we are really attacking the track and trying to find that last little bit of time.
“Credit to the guys because to do an engine change this morning, and to get us out on pole position and then to back it up with a victory … all in all it’s been a terrific day.”
While Lowndes and Winterbottom followed a conventional strategy, both switching from the hard to the soft compound tyres on lap 20, Whincup had to gamble on a different strategy. Having been swamped off the start after suffering clutch issues and dropping from second to eighth, he took advantage of the early Safety Car activation on lap two, pitting to run two longer stints on the soft tyres. A subsequent swift pitstop allowed Whincup to leapfrog a number of cars and charge up the order to secure the third place finish.
After struggling in practice, Fabian Coulthard (Lockwood Racing) made huge gains to claim fourth place ahead of Russell Ingall (Supercheap Auto Racing) who had his highest finish of the season so far. Will Davison (Tradingpost FPR) was the second best of the two-stoppers in sixth after running an alternate strategy to Winterbottom, which saw him switch to softs on lap three.
Shane van Gisbergen (SP Tools Racing), Michael Caruso, Tim Slade (Lucky 7 Racing) and Steven Johnson (Jim Beam Racing) rounded out the top 10. It was a great fight back from Caruso after he was caught up in the lap two incident between David Reynolds (The Bottle-O Racing Team) and Tony D’Alberto (Team Hiflex) which saw the Fujitsu Racing GRM driver spear through the sandtrap.
Looking for a top ten finish, a stall in the pits and then spinning off with just two laps remaining cost Jason Bright dearly. Todd Kelly had tapped the rear of the Team BOC Commodore heading into Turn 6 and the Jack Daniel's Racing driver received a 25 point post-race penalty for his actions.
Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander finished four laps down after pitting on lap two for a new steering arm, whilst Tekno Autosports' Jonathon Webb recorded the only DNF after after suffering engine problems seven laps from the end of the race.
Whincup still holds on to the series lead, but Winterbottom's second place finish cut that margin to 91 points, with Davison and Lowndes remaining in third and fourth respectively.
The Coates Hire Ipswich 300 concludes with a 200km race on Sunday.