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Lowndes to drive F1 Car


In just over two weeks he will become a grand prix driver for a day when he hot laps a McLaren Formula One car at Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Final approvals are through, the cars are set, the date is booked for Tuesday, March 22, and Lowndes said yesterday he is fit and focussed for the F1 challenge.

"I'm going to live the dream. If I feel good I'll give it a bit of a go," Lowndes said yesterday. "The amazing thing will be driving it over the top of the mountain. It will be so fast."

Lowndes will be strapping into a McLaren in a 'changing places' promotion orchestrated by Vodafone, which sponsors both his Commodore team in the V8 Supercar championship and the McLaren team. As part of the deal, former world champion Jenson Button - who drove a Vodafone Commodore at Albert Park last year in a swap with Jamie Whincup - will strap into Lowndes' car.

"It's actually happening. It's all finalised and going ahead," Lowndes confirmed yesterday. "I cannot imagine the budget for this. It's bigger than Ben Hur. They have to close the track, find all the marshalls, get the two teams organised, everything else."

Lowndes is now famous in Australia as a five-time Bathurst 1000 winner and three-time V8 Supercar champion, but there was a time when he was headed to Formula One. He was backed by the late Tom Walkinshaw for a season of open-wheel racing in Europe, driving a Formula 3000 car as team mate to Juan Pablo Montoya, who subsequently raced F1 with Williams and McLaren.

"That was 1997. It didn't work out," Lowndes said. He knows he is getting a second chance and, even if it's only for a day, he is happy. "The ultimate goal is not to crash it. I didn't make it to racing in Formula One so this is the next-best thing."

Lowndes says he is hoping for around 10 laps at Bathurst and plans to push hardest through the two easy 90-degree turns onto and off pit straight. "They are the easy ones to get a feel. If I can get about four laps to find my way, then I'll have a bit of a go.  Across the top I'm expecting it to be pretty exciting."

Jenson Button helped drive Craig Lowndes' grand prix dream with his request for Bathurst laps in a V8 Supercar. Button traded places with Jamie Whincup a year ago in the lead-up to the Australian Grand Prix, lapping his Holden Commodore at Albert Park. But he said he really wanted a crack at Mount Panorama. "It was on his wish list. He wanted it to happen," TeamVodafone boss, Roland Dane, said yesterday.

"We're happy to provide him with one of our Commodores. For us it's about the F1 car at Bathurst but for Jenson it's about ticking one off from his bucket list. Dane said the car will be running on soft-compound tyres to give Button better feel, but there is no plan to attack the lap record. "There won't be any timing. But there is going to be a brilliant viral video at the end of the day," he said.