All eyes on Lowndes and Frosty at Albert Park

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    Mark Winterbottom will be just one of the drivers looking to restart their season in Melbourne. (AAP Image/Edge Photographics)

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    The Formula One Grand Prix might be the headlining act next weekend at Albert Park, but the Supercars non-championship event has plenty of questions to be answered – particularly for a couple of veterans who didn’t find top form at a brutal season-opening Clipsal 500.

    Shane Van Gisbergen was the man at Adelaide as he smoked around to take pole for both races, and converted it into a pair of race victories and ultimately the Championship lead.

    While there are no points on the line at Albert Park, the storylines surrounding Prodrive’s Mark Winterbottom and Triple Eight’s Craig Lowndes will start to reveal themselves on the tough street circuit at Albert Park.

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    For Lowndes, it’s not just on the track. There have been reports this week that he will be forced to consider a team swap for next season, with Triple Eight potentially not offering him a new contract.

    It’ll be tough news to hear for Lowndes, who has been a stalwart of the team, run by Roland Dane since 2005 and while it’s all speculation at the moment, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

    At 42 years old, he is fighting to remain a full-time drive in 2018, which is something it’s unclear if Triple Eight will offer him, although it’s common knowledge he would be able to lock down an endurance championship drive without too many problems.

    While Lowndes hasn’t actually won the championship with Triple Eight, he has never finished outside of the top five – that’s 12 seasons in a row – and makes him the picture of consistency the rest of the field try to match on a yearly basis.

    Unfortunately for Lowndes, in a contract year that might all go out the back door and as we saw with Garth Tander for this season, locking down a full-time drive is easier said than done.

    Even though Lowndes has been consistent over the last decade, he will need to push for high results every single round this season and prove to potential teams – including Triple Eight if that’s where he stays – that he has still got it behind the wheel.

    There is a drive for younger drivers in the category, so employing the veteran is something a lot of teams might work their way around.

    After a below-par start to the season for Lowndes, where he finished eighth and tenth during the Clipsal 500, the pressure starts now for him to collect data and get ready for the resumption of the Championship in Tasmania during early April.

    The sprint rounds will be key for Lowndes. We all know how good he is behind the wheel during the enduros and given he had won five Bathurst 1000s during his stay at Triple Eight, there is no doubting it. But it’s the ability to perform consistently for 12 months at every round and draw good results that will keep Lowndes in the category full-time next season.

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    Winterbottom, on the other hand will be feeling the pressure on the track, rather than off it after what can only be described as a pretty ordinary start to the season by his standards.

    Frosty, as he is known by the Motorsport community hasn’t been the same since he took out the Championship in 2015. While that might have something to do with his Prodrive team, rather than his driving ability his luck has been below average and he isn’t driving as aggressively as he once did.

    Even though he finished sixth in the Championship last season, which is not a bad result by normal standards, Winterbottom is the face of his team and one of the veterans of the field. For Prodrive to continue being successful, he needs to be finishing at the top of the pack more often than not.

    Finishing 15th and 14th in Adelaide after a pair of qualifying performances that didn’t live up to expectations just wasn’t good enough, and the data collected in Melbourne plus a potential return to form needs to set Frosty up for the rest of the season, or he is going to come under both internal and external pressure.

    At the end of the day, the battle will be to catch Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup, who you can only expect to begin his return to form at the non-championship round.

    It’s going to be an intriguing weekend of racing, despite the doubts about the future or relevance of the event and both Lowndes and Frosty will be at the head of affairs.