Courtney: ‘I wouldn’t have won in last year’s car’
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By Bruce Newton
James Courtney has paid tribute to the Holden Racing Team in the wake of his epic victory over arch-rival Jamie Whincup this afternoon at the Clipsal 500, declaring it was only achievable because of the technical improvements made to the factory squad’s Commodores over the summer break.
And he has predicted the improvements will aid the team’s ability to mount a more consistent attack on the championship, rather than leaving Clipsal only to struggle at other more flowing circuits as has happened in past seasons.
While the highly publicised cut from four to two cars by HRT parent Walkinshaw Racing for Courtney and team-mate Garth Tander commanded most headlines and commentary over the summer, Courtney revealed the overhaul of the cars has proved crucial.
“If I was in the position I was in today in last year’s car I am 99 per cent sure I wouldn’t have stayed in front,” Courtney said post-race.
“The car is just a lot more predictable and it's not changing its mind throughout the corners so it makes our job a lot easier.
“Our guys have done a cracking job.”
Courtney finished second to Whincup in the first soft tyre race before besting the Red Bull Commodore in the second 39 lap hard tyre outing.
If he backs up tomorrow and wins the 250km mini-marathon, he will be the first three-peat Clipsal champion.
HRT has swapped from Sachs dampers to the South Australian-developed and manufactured Supashock for 2016. These are the same shock absorbers as employed by Prodrive Racing Australia since late 2013 and are also used by DJR Team Penske and by David Reynolds’ Erebus Commodore.
But it is also understood that the recast engineering team at HRT, which is now led by Englishman Alex Somerset, has also developed other significant chassis changes for the team’s Holden Commodore VF II.
The team started experimenting with Supashocks and other radical engineering changes late last season with Courtney because his freakish helicopter injuries had ended his championship hunt.
“I think it is definitely going to help us as we go through the season to other tracks with longer corners where they are not so short and sharp,” said Courtney.
“We have done massive amount of work with the dampers. Our car was really quite badly damped last year … I could never get it settled to get the drive.
“It’s been a big step forward for us … Fingers crossed it is going to carry through the year.”
Courtney put huge faith in his refettled Commodore to drive through the high-speed turn eight sideways on the last lap of today’s second race to ensure he could hold out Whincup in the turn nine passing zone.
“I closed my eyes for a minute,” he smiled. “Jamie was the closest he had been so I knew I had to commit pretty heavily.
“So I just turned in and stood on the pedal and hoped for the best.
“I had quite a large amount of opposite lock for a while but hopefully it scared him into lifting.
“Then I managed to only just pull it up into none, so yeah it was big.”
Courtney confirmed that he felt the decision to concentrate on two HRT cars this year was also paying off for the team in the way issues and workloads were being dealt with more efficiently.
“It’s a lot smoother in the team, debriefs are a lot more streamlined and the information is a lot more clearer. For both myself and Garth it is just so much easier just getting on and getting through debriefs and getting in and out of the circuit.
“You are not trying to get four people together. Getting racing drivers together is like herding cats.
“We seem to be a lot happier as a team and manufacturing things is a lot easier and twice as fast because we don’t have to make four times the componentry.
“It’s been good so far.”
Last year Walkinshaw Racing ran an entry sponsored by Supercheap Auto for Tim Slade, while Lee Holdsworth raced a customer entry for Charlie Schwerkolt.
Both HRT and Red Bull Racing parent Triple Eight are out of contract with GM Holden at the end of the season and the company is yet to reveal its future V8 Supercars commitment.