A ''heavily shafted'' Craig Lowndes has claimed a racing official's mistake may yet cost him a V8 Supercars championship tilt.
Eleven rounds remain on the 2012 calendar but Ford's Mark Winterbottom reckons this year's series has already come down to a three-car race.
Unfortunately for Lowndes, Winterbottom was not factoring in the three-time champion after the Holden veteran was at the centre of a safety car controversy in the Perth round's finale last weekend.
The safety car was directed to pick up Lowndes - not his teammate James Whincup - as race leader last Sunday, ensuring the Holden star dropped from fourth to 14th once the gaffe was discovered and he was asked to rejoin the field.
Lowndes recovered to finish sixth - but he feared the damage to his 2012 campaign had been done.
''I suppose it is one of those elements of a race that it could potentially be a championship decider and that's unfortunate because we do our best,'' Lowndes said.
Lowndes's Holden team boss Roland Dane believed it at least cost his charge victory - what would have been a record 14th win at the Perth track.
''They took the win away from Craig,'' the Team Vodafone boss said of the safety car howler.
''Basically I think Craig would have been fairly comfortable in there.
''It's a bit heartbreaking really.''
Whincup regained the championship lead in Perth - opening up a 29-point gap on Ford's Will Davison - but felt the gloss had been taken off by his teammate's misfortune.
''He got heavily shafted,'' Whincup said.
''So all in all, the vibe in the team is not so good. But we've had this in the past and we've used it to improve and become better.''
Whincup (1095 points) leads the series ahead of Davison (1066) and Winterbottom (935).
Lowndes is fourth, but well back on 779 points.
Winterbottom believes the championship may hinge on a mistake made by the top three drivers, such is the trio's dominance to date.
''All three of us are up the front all weekend, so it's going to be quite tough - a long year,'' Winterbottom said.
''It's about the mistakes that are probably going to determine this championship.''
Defending series champion Whincup has again been at his consistent best this year but Ford's Davison and Winterbottom have set a whole new standard for excellence.
Their team Ford Performance Racing's record for most wins in a V8 Supercar season stands at eight in 2008.
Davison and Winterbottom have already combined for seven victories in nine races, with 11 rounds remaining.
The next V8 Supercars round will be held at Phillip Island from May 18. AAP