Supercars great Mark Skaife says the lack of an endurance lead-up event this year will only boost Craig Lowndes’ chances of moving a step closer to Peter Brock’s legendary Bathurst 1000 record on Sunday.
All eyes will be on Lowndes at Mount Panorama this week when the 45-year-old returns to racing for the first time since retiring from full-time driving last year.
Lowndes will move into the secondary co-driver role after teaming up with Holden’s record seven-time series champion Jamie Whincup for the endurance rounds, starting with the Bathurst 1000.
But Lowndes was still expected to feel plenty of pressure as defending champion after moving to equal second on the all-time Bathurst winners list with his seventh Great Race triumph last year, trailing his idol Brock by just two victories.
And expectation is high that Lowndes will eclipse Brock’s nine wins after recently re-signing as Red Bull Racing’s co-driver until at least 2021.
But his task appeared all that more difficult to back up after a surprise schedule reshuffle this year which ensured the traditional Bathurst lead-up endurance event – the Sandown 500 – was moved to November.
It robbed part-time co-drivers of precious practice before what is considered the Supercars’ holy grail.
Skaife said some teams would struggle as a result of the schedule re-jig.
But he believed Lowndes’ vast experience at Mount Panorama will help him click with four-time Bathurst winner Whincup quickly and give their Red Bull Racing Team the edge in Sunday’s Great Race.
“We don’t have a lead-in event which tends to raise the stakes and creates more pressure on the co-drivers,” Skaife told AAP.
“It lends to co-drivers making little mistakes and if you make enough of them that’s where the pressure builds.
“But this is Lowndes’ 26th Bathurst. In terms of combinations the Red Bull Racing team have probably got the best especially because we don’t have that lead-in event.”
Lowndes said Bathurst was tough every year but the lack of a lead-up enduro had only added to the challenge as he prepared for his long awaited return.
“Having no Sandown 500 is the interesting part. Going straight into Bathurst will be quite challenging for the co-drivers so we can’t make any mistakes,” he told AAP.
“It does change things. The Sandown 500 gave you the chance to get your systems right and work out any issues or problems but we won’t have that opportunity this year.”