V8 Supercars driver Craig Lowndes hasn't won a championship in more than a decade but he's starting to believe he can win another this season.
Lowndes arrives at Phillip Island for the L&H 500 endurance race this weekend with a chance of closing right up on series leader and team-mate Jamie Whincup.
The TeamVodafone driver's clean sweep of all three races at the last round at Queensland Raceway allowed him to move within 98 points of Whincup, and he lists the endurance races at Phillip Island and Bathurst as his favourites.
His co-driver this weekend is multiple championship winner Mark Skaife, with whom he won the L&H 500 last year.
"This is the time of year we really start to go well and, of course we're heading into Phillip Island with Skaife," Lowndes said. "Phillip Island, Bathurst and the Gold Coast are so important in the championship and to get right.
"Skaife and I had a great run here last year and both love the car set-up the same way.
He's probably better prepared this year than last year because he's had more time in the car."
It's been a long time between drinks for Lowndes, who won his last championship title in 1999. He was one of the bright young things in the late 1990s, winning the title three times in four years. Although he hasn't been far off the pace over the past 10 years, Lowndes hasn't managed to grab another title.
This year, though, he sits poised ready to strike for a fourth series title with six rounds remaining in the championship.
"People have obviously been talking about how long it's been since I won a race and getting a clean sweep helped me there," Lowndes said. "The first half of the season has gone extremely well and it's perfect timing to be where we are now and races like these coming up I really, really enjoy."
Some of Lowndes' best results in his 1998 winning season came on circuits they have yet to race on this year - Phillip Island, Symmons Plains and Sandown. Bathurst and the Gold Coast weren't on the race calendar then but, as a five-time winner on the Mount Panorama circuit, Lowndes is confident of grabbing more points.
"We're in a great position and it's been 12 years since my last championship," he said.
"It's looking pretty positive at the moment and we're in a good spot for the championship.
The races this weekend will be run under a unique format, with each driver competing in a sprint race on the Saturday with the results determining the grid for Sunday's main event. Saturday's points also count towards the fulltime driver's championship tally.
"It gives a different element to qualifying and it isn't about a sheer fast lap time but more about consistency with the drivers," Lowndes said. "It's hard to understand and most people don't want to know what goes on on Saturday, just the grid for Sunday.
"But Saturday is important for us and the team. You have to get it right to get maximum points and at least try to start on the front row of the grid for Sunday's race."
- APNZBy Eric Thompson