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Sandown 500 back where it belongs

Starting further back in the pack at Sandown isn't good as you have more potential for incidents.
Craig Lowndes

11 Sep 2012 • 3 min read

Over the past four years the 500km race has been staged at Phillip Island which is historically significant because it was the original 500-mile endurance round before they moved it to Bathurst in 1963.

But I grew up with the Sandown 500 as the dress rehearsal for Bathurst, so it just feels right that we return to Melbourne this weekend for the first of the enduro events. Don't get me wrong. I love the Island. It's an amazing driver's track with fast and flowing corners.

But Sandown is an amazing spectator track stuck right in the middle of the suburbs with plenty of great vantage points and a massive grandstand that runs along most of the main straight. It's a hard race for drivers and cars; hard on brakes and hard on the suspension because we hit every kerb. Basically it turns into a hard-charging sprint from start to finish which makes it a fantastic race for the fans.

Apart from its history, I'm happy to be returning to Sandown because we've had a lot of success there in the longer format. In 2005 I qualified second with French driver Yvan Muller and we won, in 2006 I qualified second and Jamie Whincup and I came third and in 2007 Jamie qualified us third and we won again.

I think it's just the fact that I enjoy the longer distance races because of the strategy and team work involved. We didn't do as well at Sandown over the past four years in the sprint races although we were only once out of the top 10 and won a race in 2008.

Most of those races were on soft tyres, not hard tyres like we'll be using all weekend and the last time we raced there in an endurance event was in a Ford, so we come into this event with very little useful data. I think the qualifying format on Saturday will cause a few upsets.

The past few years at the Island we had sprint races for the two drivers with combined results determining the grid positions for the main race. But they've mixed up the format yet again.

The main drivers will do a 20-minute qualifying session to determine the grid for the first sprint race on the Saturday for the co-drivers only. The finishing position for that race will then determine the grid for the next sprint race which is for main drivers. The result of that race sets the grid for the 500km race on Sunday.

I think there are going to be some huge upsets with some teams and drivers further back in the grid than they potentially deserve to be and some lucky teams further up than they normally would expect. If you get turned around or have a slight problem in a sprint race you'll quickly go backwards through the field.

Not that grid position is quite as important as it is at Bathurst where you really have to be on one of the first four rows. Starting further back in the pack at Sandown isn't good as you have more potential for incidents and being caught up in someone's problem. But it isn't the end of the world on this short track in a long race.


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