Craig Lowndes played a pivotal role in turning Triple Eight from a team of "nobodies" into the Supercars powerhouse it is today, says team manager Mark Dutton.
While now well-established as an absolute powerhouse of the Australian series, having won eight team and eight driver titles since 2008, the team was far from a recognised force when Lowndes joined in 2005.
Lowndes made his Triple Eight switch just over a year after the British outfit had taken ownership of the unfancied Briggs Motorsport squad, team boss Roland Dane talking the series' biggest name into moving over from Ford Performance Racing.
The breakthrough signing came right as Triple Eight began a sudden surge to the top of the Supercars ranks, Lowndes winning the team's first race in 2005 and teaming up with Jamie Whincup to win its first Bathurst crown a year later.
From that point on the wins and titles flowed freely, Whincup now a seven-time series champion while Lowndes has six Bathurst 1000 wins to his name.
And according to team manager Mark Dutton, who has been there since the beginning, the success story may not exist had Lowndes not joined in the first place.
"When we were the little engine that could, when we were a small team trying to be legit, trying to get some trophies... even when we went from Briggs to Triple Eight we were still nobodies," said Dutton.
"When Craig joined the team, it was a massive leap of faith from him. Good on Roland for being able to [make him] see what Triple Eight would be able to do.
"It gave us a level of respect straight away in the paddock that someone of his stature would join the team. It was a pretty proud moment when you're a small team that hadn't have much success, to then get that person. Everyone stepped up at the time, and wanted to work harder and harder to show that he made the right call.
"It definitely was a turning point for Triple Eight. I don't think we'd be where we are without him being part of the team at all."
Given that remarkable history between team and driver, Dutton said it is sad to see Lowndes stepping down as a full-timer.
"The feeling is... I knew the announcement was coming, but jeez it was sad," he said.
"It was pretty emotional when both Roland and Lowndsey were announcing it privately to the team before they went and did it publicly.
"Yeah, it's sad. It's the right time, and everything makes sense, and there's no doubt that it's the right decision for Craig, for the team, for everyone together. It's been done really well, but you can't help but shed a tear."
Dutton added that the one blot in the Lowndes/Triple Eight copybook is that they – to this point at least – have never won a title together, despite Lowndes being a constant figure in the top four of the standings during his time with the team.
He also batted off light-hearted suggestions that he himself was partly to blame for that, having played such a crucial role in the engineering group that helped Whincup's dominant run of championships.
"I was only a part of the whole collective," he said. "Believe it or not, we've always worked together. We've always been tight knit. I've never kept anything away from, whether it was [former Lowndes engineer Jeromy Moore] and CL... people do, don't worry, in other teams. But I don't think I can take any of that credit, I was just a cog in the machine.
"It would be a dream come true to give him a championship in his final full-time drive. That's the only thing we haven't been able to give him in his time with Triple Eight, and it tears me apart that we haven't been able to give him that.
"We'll be working hard all year. There are numbers than make it very difficult, but we don't worry about that. We'll go hard and it will sort itself out."
About this article
|Teams||Triple Eight Race Engineering|
|Author||Andrew van Leeuwen|