Craig Lowndes has produced a brilliant drive to win his seventh Bathurst 1000, taking advantage of an ailing David Reynolds to clinch victory at Mount Panorama.Last year’s winner Reynolds led for most of the day, but Lowndes thrilled the big crowds on the mountain by pushing him close as the race entered its final 30 laps.
Eventually a cramping Reynolds was unable to hold off Lowndes who overtook him on lap 135 of the 161-lap race.
Reynolds’ cramping led him to spin the wheels in his final fuel stop, drawing a pit lane penalty, leaving Lowndes — partnered by Steven Richards — to go on to win by six seconds from Scott Pye, with Scott McLaughlin in third.
Richards — the son of seven-time Bathurst winner Jim Richards — earned his fifth win in the Great Race, his second partnering Lowndes following their win in 2015.
Erebus Motorsport’s Reynolds was attempting to become the first man since Lowndes (who won every year from 2006 to 2008) to win consecutive editions of the Bathurst 1000.
Lowndes made an emotional announcement in July at the Townsville 400, confirming this year would be his last full-time season in the championship.
The roar from the crowd in the final laps was immense, as it became clear the popular driver was going to clinch a memorable win.
“[It means] a lot, it’s like [the win in 2006] over again,” Lowndes told Fox Sports after Sunday’s race.
“These guys [the team] have done a hell of a job all weekend, we’ve had problems with steering the whole time.
“It’s a pity for Reynolds, I don’t know what happened to him, but they were the benchmark the whole weekend.
“But when we got the lead we didn’t want to give it up!”
Lowndes said the end of the race was one to savour, as he had time to take in the response from the crowd.
“I just cruised through the last lap,” he said.
“I could see the crowd there on the top of the mountain — we have had such great support.”
PHOTO: An emotional David Reynolds was left to wonder what might have been after cramps ended his hopes of going back-to-back. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
“Even in the first 15 laps I wasn’t mentally there. I was just lost,” he said.”My body gave up after that. I’m just so disappointed for everyone.
“We were the best car all weekend … I just can’t believe it,” he said.
Plenty of drama before stunning finish
There was drama a little over 20 laps in to the race, with David Russell in a Tickford Racing Ford Falcon hitting the wall after a bump from teammate Chaz Mostert on Forrests Elbow.A frustrated Russell limped back to the pits but was left to fume about being eliminated from the race.
James Courtney’s race ended on lap 33, with co-driver Jack Perkins skidding off with engine failure.
The race blew up for four-time Bathurst winner Jamie Whincup and co-driver Paul Dumbrell on lap 40.
Dumbrell was just beginning a lap when smoke started coming from the front right wheel, which then flew off approaching the first turn and bounced away off the circuit, thankfully without hitting anyone.
Dumbrell made it through a lap on three tyres, but the unscheduled stop drove the Triple Eight Holden pairing down the leaderboard, leaving them more than a lap down.
The placings changed periodically due to pit stops.
An incident on lap 95 then set up the last part of the race.
Holden driver Bryce Fullwood spun off into the sand trap, bringing out the safety car.
Reynolds was in front, but Lowndes moved up to second spot.
Pye was in third, followed by 2014 winner Mostert, Shane Van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard and McLaughlin.
Whincup was able to use the safety car to get back on to the lead lap, but was still trailing by a large time gap.
With the main drivers now in position to run to the end, it became a 60-plus lap sprint.
Reynolds looked to be in a better fuel position than Lowndes, but the physical toll of the race caught up with him and led to Lowndes taking the lead.