James Courtney has declared himself fit and firing after making a successful return to the cockpit of his Holden Racing Team Commodore VF at the sydney.com Test Day last Saturday.
The tibia in Courtney’s right leg was broken in a horrific accident at the Sargent Security Phillip Island 360 last November when his factory Holden was t-boned by Alex Premat’s GRM Commodore.
The 33-year old spent the summer in rehabilitation and the Sydney Motorsport Park test was his first time back in the cockpit.
He ended up setting fifth fastest time in the rain-affected hit-out and was the quickest of the four Walkinshaw Racing pilots, including HRT teammate Garth Tander, new Supercheap Auto Racing driver Tim Slade and rookie Nick Percat.
This was also Courtney’s first time in chassis WR020, the car built to replace his Phillip Island wreck that debuted in the hands of Percat at the Sydney NRMA Motoring & Services 500 at Sydney Olympic Park last December.
“It was no issue at all, it was like I hadn’t left,” Courtney told v8supercars.com.au.
“I wasn’t scared or anything like that. Everything went well, the leg operated how it should, it’s holding me upright.
“I am as strong as I was at this time last year."
In typical upbeat fashion, Courtney is full of optimism and ambition for the new season.
“It’s the Championship. That’s it,” he said. “It’s the same every year I roll into.
“I am not going to stand in front of you and say ‘hey I hope I come third in the Championship’. If I say that I am in the wrong profession. Anyone up and down the pitlane who does say that is lying or is here for different reasons than me.”
Courtney’s enthusiasm has been buoyed by the renewal of his professional relationship with new Walkinshaw Racing managing director Adrian Burgess, with whom he claimed the V8 Supercars Championship when they were last together at Dick Johnson Racing in 2010.
“It was like slipping on an old pair of shoes,” Courtney joked. “We have worked on and off since 2000 or something so it was just like it always has been. It was a bit funny seeing him in red shirt though!”
But Burgess is only part of a team structure overhaul that has Courtney feeling confident. Other additions include Mat ‘Techo’ Nilsson rejoining the team from FPR as technical director, Blake Smith – who worked with Courtney at DJR – coming onboard from Tekno Autosports and Alex Somerset recruited from Nissan Motorsport.
“I have never worked with Techo at the race track before and he conducted himself really, really well. I was super-impressed. I think the combination of he and Adrian at the top steering us is really good,” he said.
“Add those guys to our already strong little engineering group and it’s a good recipe. I am pretty happy.”
Courtney’s first and last hit-out in his new car before the season-opening February 27 to March 2 Clipsal 500 in Adelaide also included some new updates developed over the summer. But he said the conditions didn’t help establish their worth.
“We got a few little indications of things … but I don’t think anyone got a real good shot at it. But we are pretty happy with what we did get to run through. We had a bit of drama with one of the changes taking longer than what we expected, so we lost a bit of dry track running time.
“We don’t have another test between now and the Clipsal 500 so the boys will now go through all my testing program. Garth went through a whole bunch of other stuff so they will go through that. And these two meatballs (Slade and Percat) did some other stuff.
“So that’s the benefit of having four cars with competitive guys. We can all use each other’s data and all test a heap of different stuff and come up with a common signal for Clipsal.”