Fourteen of the world’s best V8 Supercars drivers signed merchandise and posed for photographs, before the race event at Winton Motor Raceway.By Kaitlin Thals
Hundreds of fans raced to Benalla’s Drill Hall last Thursday to meet their favourite V8 Supercars drivers before the weekend’s main event at Winton.
Fourteen of the world’s best V8 Supercars drivers signed merchandise and posed for photographs, before the race event at Winton Motor Raceway from Friday to Sunday.
On Thursday night, fans battled wintry weather to line up well before the signing.
A handful continued on to Benalla Holden where they met more of the drivers, including Russell Ingall, who is set to retire from the V8 Supercars circuit at the end of the racing season after more than 20 years on the track.
Racing fanatics came from far and wide for the weekend, including Bendigo and Sydney.
‘‘I like Jamie Whincup because I like the way he drives,’’ Benalla’s Deakyn Kohler, 10, said on Thursday.
‘‘We always come, I come with Dad to the race,’’ Bendigo’s Michael Trew, 13, said.
Sydney’s Ken McKell, 51, was also at Thursday’s signing and follows the circuit across Australia. He was camping in Benalla for the weekend.
It’s not just the fans who enjoy returning to Winton year after year.
Australian motorsport legend and Red Bull Racing Australia driver Craig Lowndes said it was good to be back in the region, racing on the familiar track.
‘‘I grew up here in the sense of doing Formula Ford. This (Winton Motor Raceway) used to be my club track and it’s very familiar,’’ Mr Lowndes said on Thursday.
‘‘I used to know it as the old original layout when you used to come out the back straight and go straight onto the (S-bends), rather than doing the extension we do now.
‘‘So, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the course of the years and the upgrade. The fan base is always quite incredible here, and people ask us why we come here: it’s the rural connection between Albury and Shepparton and around, location-wise it’s really good.’’
Mr Lowndes said the familiar track held many racing memories, some career-changing.
He has been racing in V8 Supercars at Winton since 1996.
‘‘We’ve had a few good victories here. Probably the moment (that I remember most at Winton) was after my accident in 1999 at Calder Park and I had to have a knee reconstruction,’’ Mr Lowndes said.
‘‘This was the first race back after the accident, it was quite nerve-wracking, to be honest, and something that took me all week for me to get back and be familiar with the car and being comfortable.
‘‘I don’t think it was a successful weekend, but it was a success for me because it got me back into racing, and getting over the torment and drama I had at Calder Park.’’
Mr Lowndes said Winton was a good track and a great venue which always drew the crowds.
‘‘If you’re looking for upgrades to the place, the surface of the track is due for re-surfacing, it’s a little bit patchy now, but all in all in comparison to other tracks, it’s still in good nick,’’ he said.
For German Mercedes-Benz driver Maro Engel, this was his first time racing at Winton.
He was expecting some interesting racing due to the wet, muddy track.
‘‘I’m looking forward to it,’’ Mr Engel said.
‘‘I’ve done the whole (V8 Supercars) calendar in Australia this year. I’ve got to see a bit of the country, it’s beautiful, it’s a great country, lovely people, great countryside and amazing beaches.’’
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