It’s runaway Supercars series leader Scott McLaughlin’s championship to lose.
But motorsport great Mark Skaife says the jury is still out on whether the all-conquering Ford driver can extend his record-breaking winning run by claiming a maiden Bathurst 1000 title at Mount Panorama on Sunday.
Seven-times King of the Mountain Craig Lowndes is the talk of the fans this week as he makes his return behind the wheel as an enduro co-driver after retiring from full-time duties last year.
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However the man in every other driver’s sights is defending series champion McLaughlin.
The flying Kiwi holds a massive 598-point lead over his nearest series rival, Holden’s Shane van Gisbergen, after a stellar season to date.
McLaughlin may not rival the evergreen, ever-smiling Lowndes’ enormous popularity but he has already surpassed his idol in the history books thanks to his dominant run.
In a dream lead-up to the Great Race, McLaughlin notched his 17th race win of 2019 by claiming line honours at the Auckland SuperSprint last month to set a record for most victories in a season, surpassing Lowndes’ 1996 haul of 16.
His huge series lead ensures McLaughlin can crash out in the next two rounds and still most likely top the drivers’ standings, allowing the Kiwi to adopt a “win it or bin it” approach at Bathurst.
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Most expect McLaughlin to do the former — but six-time Bathurst winner Skaife is not so sure.
Skaife said instead of leaving rivals in his dust, McLaughlin will be looking nervously in his Mustang’s rear-view mirror at Bathurst.
He said Holden had evened things out for Mount Panorama after making significant progress at the last round in Auckland thanks to new aerodynamic changes to every Commodore’s package.
“Scott’s form has just been extraordinary. It’s definitely his championship to lose,” Skaife told AAP.
“For a guy that has broken records and been so dominant, to not have won Bathurst seems a bit weird.
“Now with that series lead, he can have a real crack at it.
“But looking at New Zealand, the Commodores have made some ground.
“For sure the aero changes have made a difference to those cars.
“I think it has created a situation now where there is nothing between the cars — I think we are in for a cracking race.”
Indeed anything can happen on Mount Panorama — and usually does. The famous race’s 59-year history is littered with sob stories and McLaughlin is no different.
His unlucky run has ensured he has only made the podium once in seven attempts, finishing third last year.
Not surprisingly, McLaughlin isn’t taking anything for granted this year.
“I am excited to go to Bathurst in a good position points-wise. It allows me to enjoy the week more and be calm about it all,” he said.
“We are going to be in a pretty formidable position coming out of Bathurst championship-wise regardless of the result.
“I am just going to go for it, enjoy the week and see how we go.”
McLaughlin may be the man most drivers will fear but 45-year-old Lowndes will be the one most fans will embrace as he makes his return.
While drivers are known to leave Mount Panorama in tears, Lowndes’ trademark grin has rarely left his face at Bathurst thanks to six victories in the past 10 years.
He is equal second on the all-time list with seven wins, trailing only his hero Peter Brock who famously claimed nine.
Teaming up with four-time Bathurst winner Jamie Whincup, Lowndes will hope to take a step closer to a record once considered untouchable.
Not that Lowndes is losing sleep over it.
“Not really I just want to make sure I go to Bathurst prepared, be supportive to Jamie and if we can get another victory I will be delighted,” he said.
“But I am not focused on (Brock’s) record.”