Craig Lowndes has sensationally crashed his Red Bull Holden while leading the Auckland 500, handing Mark Winterbottom a slice of V8 Supercars championship respite.
With 11 laps remaining, Lowndes was in control of Saturday’s second 60km race at Pukekohe, cruising towards his first New Zealand win in 15 years.
But as he passed the start/finish line in front of the main grandstand, his left rear tyre blew out, sending pieces of his car into the air and his Commodore flying out of control.
The No.888 vehicle eventually settled in the dirt hundreds of metres later, with the 41-year-old walking away from the incident to warm applause from the Kiwi crowd.
The drama denied his Red Bull team a chance to claim back-to-back wins at the regional circuit after team-mate Jamie Whincup took out the opening race.
Whincup won decisively from pole ahead of Shane Van Gisbergen and David Reynolds.
In contrast, race two featured a fierce battle between Reynolds and Whincup at the death.
Whincup edged in front of car No.55 on the second-last lap as he hunted another win.
The gutsy Reynolds, who will move to Erebus in 2016 after his Prodrive Racing team didn’t offer him a new contract, held his ground and returned to the lead around the turn to hang on for his second win of the season.
Lowndes’ misfortune was music to the ears of Winterbottom, who was facing a cut in his championship lead.
The Red Bull veteran, second in the standings, was on track to reduce the Ford man’s margin at the top of the standings to 226 points.
Instead, the gap is now 287 points – to Reynolds, with Lowndes in third a further 19 points back – and a compelling Sunday drive will have Winterbottom on track for a maiden title.
Winterbottom finished seventh and fourth in the two races.
Jason Bright was unable to take part in the second race after suffering damage in Saturday’s earlier race, which he failed to finish.
Tim Slade could also face heat from officials for a first-lap incident in the first race when he appeared to turn Will Davison around, leading him to crash into Fabian Coulthard.
AUCKLAND 500 RESULTS – RACE 28
1. Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden)
3. David Reynolds (Ford)
4. Craig Lowndes (Holden)
5. Scott Pye (Ford)
AUCKLAND 500 RESULTS – RACE 29
1. David Reynolds (Ford)
2. James Whincup (Holden)
3. Scott McLaughlin (Volvo)
4. Mark Winterbottom (Ford)
5. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden)