CRAIG Lowndes will fly around Sandown this weekend at speeds of up to 270 kilometres an hour in his V8 Supercar.
Yesterday, however, he swapped the routine racing suit, helmet and fluoro orange Commodore for casual gear and a less aerodynamic vehicle at a more sedate pace.
Think Craig Lowndes on his way to lawn bowls maybe or Craig Lowndes stuck in a funeral procession.
There was one thing still the same – the big, cheeky grin on his face as he zipped past the row of pit garages with his hand up waving at all who were there to witness to the spectacle.
The three-time champion Supercar driver and five-time Bathurst winner was behind the wheel of a black Holden FX – a replica of the 1953 car that travelled to Europe for the famous Monte Carlo Rally.
Next year, on the 60th anniversary of that rally, Lowndes will join a team of Australians who will re-enact the event by contesting the 2013 Monte Carlo Historic Rally.
The original team of Tony Gaze, Lex Davison and Stan Jones were part of history, driving the first Holden to take part in an international event, and gaining plenty of admiration from curious Europeans.
The first Holden model, the 48-215 (FX), is, to date, the only Australian entry ever to compete in the rally.
Lowndes will be joined at next January’s rally by project coordinator Gary Poole of Derrinallum and Richard Davison, son of the late Lex Davison.
They will be supported by David Fazarkerley of Derrinallum and Lyle Bond from Lismore, in a more modern Holden – a Commodore SV6 wagon supplied by Callaghan Motors of Warrnambool.
Tony Gaze, who is the only surviving member of the original team, has been named as patron of the re-enactment project.
Lowndes took the Holden through its paces for the first time this week on the track where he will be hoping to notch up a fifth Sandown 500 title this weekend.
Lownes gives a tour of the Team Vodafone pit garage this week.
"It actually drives really well,” he said during a practice lap. “The only thing I’m getting used to is the steering and it’s got a little shudder in the brakes.”
“The only thing I asked for is a heater because it’s going to be really cold (in Europe), so they put one in a named it after me.”
Lowndes said he felt privileged to be part of the event. “For me, it’s probably one of those things - you really wouldn’t go into much great depth of understanding it unless you actually get involved in a project like this.
“I’m really looking forward to going back to Monte Carlo and getting part of what history was made so, so long ago.
“A lot of the older drivers - not so much the younger ones - those like Garth Tander and a few of the other guys have made the comment on how good it would to be part of it because of the history behind it.”
Lowndes has close ties with the south-west, with his father’s family originating in the district. His uncle ran a family farm in Timboon, his grandmother lived in Colac and a few relatives lived in Camperdown.
Lowndes said he recently returned (via the Great Ocean Road of course) to check out the Timboon property where he once helped milk cows and watch the shearers at work.
“From the age of about 12 to 18 I was always down there every Christmas.”
Gary Poole said the next few months would be all systems go in preparation for the rally. The team will start its journey in Glasgow, travel across the English Channel to France and then through the Alps into Monte Carlo. The car is fitted with a GPS unit, allowing the drivers to make sure they are recording the minimum average speeds required during the stages.
Callaghan’s dealer principal Steve Callaghan said he was pleased to support the project.
“It ties in nicely for us as we’re coming up to our 80th birthday next year, it’s the 60th anniversary of the rally and it’s also the 55th year that Callaghan’s have been dealing in Holdens.”