Craig Lowndes has conceded the Bathurst thriller will be remembered more for the team orders drama than the stunning win by Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat.
On Sunday, a week on from the thrilling race, it was confirmed DJR Team Penske had been found guilty of a team orders rule breach from the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
The team had ordered Fabian Coulthard in the sister car to slow down under Safety Car late in the race, with McLaughlin going on to seal the win.
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However, the results were rendered provisional until Sunday, with the Coulthard/Tony D’Alberto entry dumped from sixth to 21st.
DJRTP was also deducted 300 points from their teams’ championship tally, and fined $250,000 — the largest fine in Supercars history.
Stewards opted to suspend $100,000 of the fine until the end of 2021, with DJRTP not previously breaching similar rules.
The team also pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and fully co-operated with the inquiry.
While the win will remain for McLaughlin and Premat, Lowndes — who finished fourth with Jamie Whincup in the #888 Red Bull Holden entry — believes the win has been tainted forever.
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“The fine has been the biggest that the category has ever put on any race team, so that speaks volumes of what went on,” seven-time Bathurst winner Lowndes told reporters ahead of this weekend’s Vodafone Gold Coast 600.
“For me, I don’t think it was in the spirit of the rules and in the spirit of how the race was.
“Everyone wants to see a hard, fast race towards the end, and we didn’t get to see that.
“People will remember that Bathurst for what it was now, not for the win. That’s the downside of it.
“Bathurst is about the Peter Brock Trophy, and having a hard, fast race to the finish.
“Scotty had one of the fastest cars there all weekend, and he stood on the top step.
“But in the spirit of the race, it’s not what I wanted to see.”
The #888 loomed as a contender to win the race before the team made a decisive call with 10 laps remaining to bring Whincup in for a splash-and-dash.
On full fuel and old tyres, Whincup — who emerged from the stop in fourth position — failed to clear James Courtney and brought the #888 home in fourth.
The sister car of Shane van Gisbergen/Garth Tander was just 0.7s behind the #17 at the chequered flag despite a number of problems on the day, including a loose door and double-stacking.
Whincup refused to buy into the sportsmanship debate, yet pleaded for a fair outcome so competitors and fans can enjoy an event with clarity over the result.
However, the seven-time series champion remained coy over whether team orders should be stamped out full stop, with drivers — Whincup included, in New Zealand last year — playing the team game and helping their stablemates gain valuable points.
“We need to protect the racing and the competition to make sure that whoever pays 100 bucks to get in on the weekend actually see a fair dinkum battle between everyone,” Whincup said.
“We need to make sure that the teams aren’t influencing that.
“But for a teammate to help out another teammate to get a few more points for a championship, that’s up for debate.
“I’m not sure what direction we should head in there.”
Prior to Sunday’s news, McLaughlin revealed to The Loud Pedal podcast that Coulthard was “struggling” after copping a tirade of online abuse following the drama, and pointed the finger at media coverage and fans for blowing the drama out of proportion.
However, McLaughlin also admitted that the shroud over his and Premat’s great day has hindered their celebrations, regardless of the charge against their team.
“We had the fastest car all weekend, we broke the lap record multiple times, we started from pole,” the championship leader said.
“We did our best job when we could, we lived for the now on the fuel saving strategy and then at the end we got a fair crack with [van Gisbergen] after the Safety Car restart.
“We deserved to win that race. I believe we won it fair and square, it just sucks we have to deal with all this stuff and what probably should be the greatest week of my life.
“I’m not going to lie, it has been a bit sad and it could have been a lot better for us to enjoy it.
“I think from my point of view and Alex’s point of view, we have enjoyed it as a pairing.
“But it has been a bit noisy and frustrating not to fully enjoy it.”