Winning the PIRTEK Enduro Cup made up for a lean first half of the season for Jamie Whincup, who combined with Craig Lowndes to execute one of the most clinical endurance campaigns in history following their Sandown 500 win.
Across the three events at Bathurst, Surfers Paradise and Sandown, the #888 duo finished no lower than fourth in all races, including the two Sandown sprints.
From a maximum of 950 points across the three events, Whincup and Lowndes tallied 878, which marks the highest ever total recorded by a combination in Enduro Cup history.
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Lowndes claimed a record third Enduro Cup win, with Whincup winning his second. If not for a late gamble on a pit stop at Bathurst, and orders from the team to stick behind the sister car on the Sunday at Surfers Paradise, the perfect score would have been theirs.
Taking home the endurance crown made up for a sluggish start to the season for Whincup, who entered the enduro season a whopping 868 points down on eventual series champion Scott McLaughlin, who clinched the 2019 crown with ninth at Sandown.
The seven-time series champion had to wait until Race 19 of the championship at the Ipswich SuperSprint to jump onto the winners’ list – but after his and Lowndes’ enduro dominance, the early-season frustrations are dead and buried.
“Obviously the championship got away from us halfway through the year, and Bathurst got away from us as well,” Whincup said.
“It’s nice to have a major trophy in the cabinet coming to the end of the year … the start of the year was lean from our standards.
“We’re used to having good performances, so from the start of the year, not being able to crack a win, or a pole, or anything for so long, it was very tough.
“We worked on the things in our control, and of course the category did a great job to even the cars up to give us a fighting chance. In the enduro campaign, I feel like we made the most of our opportunities.”
Coming into the enduros, the pressure was on Lowndes to justify the ‘dream team’ tag after linking up with Whincup for the first time in a decade.
Lowndes was sloppy at times at Bathurst, with a pair of mid-race errors handing the lead to eventual winner Alex Premat.
From there, the 45-year-old cleaned up his act and returned to his imperious best across the Gold Coast and Sandown events. No driver launched away off starts better than Lowndes, with his stints in the Saturday Surfers race and the Sandown enduro up there with the drives of the season.
Had Lowndes beaten Garth Tander to the first chicane on Sunday on the Gold Coast, the #888 may well have won five races in a row.
Team boss Roland Dane had no qualms in trying to recreate the revered Whincup/Lowndes dynamic which brought home three straight Bathurst wins and a Sandown win over 10 years ago.
Lowndes was satisfied to repay his boss’s faith, but paid tribute to the team for putting all their chips of the table in the year’s biggest races, with the drivers’ championship a foregone conclusion.
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It could have been much closer, had Shane van Gisbergen not suffered a heartbreaking suspension failure while leading late at Sandown – but a one-two in the Enduro Cup standings proved to Lowndes that Triple Eight remain the benchmark in the long distance events, with the team winning five of seven Enduro Cups since it was introduced in 2013.
“When the PIRTEK Enduro Cup was introduced, I think it gave every team something to strive for,” Lowndes explained.
“If you’re not going to win the championship, it gives you another spectrum of racing to be able to hang your head high, in that at least three of the races you’ve done the right job.
“There’s no secret that Roland came here to win Bathurst. Jamie and I have different opinions, he loves to win the championship, I love Bathurst, but hopefully between us we can keep winning the Enduro Cup.
“It’s about the consistency over the three races. All three tracks are massively different, so you could be good at Bathurst and bad at Gold Coast, and vice versa.
“It highlights team preparation and how they go about it. We would have been separated by one point, so everyone in the Red Bull Holden Racing Team must be very proud.
“To be racing one-two with 11 laps to go, one point apart, is pretty special for the team.”
2019 PIRTEK ENDURO CUP STANDINGS
1st: Whincup/Lowndes (878 points)
2nd: van Gisbergen/Tander (-181)
3rd: Holdsworth/Randle (-222)
4th: Pye/Luff (-234)
5th: McLaughlin/Premat (-238)
6th: Courtney/Perkins (-264)
7th: W.Davison/A.Davison (-294)
8th: Coulthard/D’Alberto (-382)
9th: Reynolds/Youlden (-413)
10th: Winterbottom/Richards (-420)
11th: Waters/Caruso (-436)
12th: Kelly/Wood (-453)
13th: Percat/Blanchard (-455)
14th: Mostert/Moffat (-500)
15th: De Pasquale/Brown (-518)
16th: De Silvestro/Rullo (-526)
17th: Le Brocq/Webb (-532)
18th: Jones/Canto (-538)
19th: Stanaway/Pither (-565)
20th: Slade/Walsh (-597)
21st: Heimgartner/Fullwood (-600)
22nd: Jacobson/Fiore (-620)
23rd: Golding/Muscat (-630)
24th: B.Kostecki/K.Kostecki (-631)
25th: Hazelwood/Smith (-678)
PIRTEK ENDURO CUP WINNERS
2019: Whincup/Lowndes (878)
2018: Lowndes/Richards (696)
2017: Mostert/Owen (660)
2016: van Gisbergen/Premat (840)
2015: Tander/Luff (747)
2014: Whincup/Dumbrell (810)
2013: Lowndes/Luff (774)