James Courtney is preparing to race at Sydney Motorsport Park for the first time in two years, after he was unexpectedly injured in a freak accident at the circuit last year.
The Holden Racing Team driver had been fifth in the Championship and hopeful of a strong run home when he was struck by a piece of flying debris, dislodged from the team’s garage by gusty wind from a low flying helicopter.
Courtney was rushed to hospital on Friday after steering just one practice session (finishing 11th) and suffered two fractured ribs and a pneumothorax, which sidelined him for three rounds including big-points enduros the Wilson Security Sandown 500 and Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
HRT driver Jack Perkins stood in – and the two won the Sunday race after Courtney’s return at the Gold Coast – but the 2010 champion missed key races he is desperately looking forward to this time around.
“It was disappointing – I think I got one practice in last year, if I remember correctly I think I was amazingly quick!” Courtney told supercars.com.
“I’m a Western Sydney boy so it’s a home event for me, if you want to put it that way. I’m excited to get out there, it’s a good track to drive, fast flowing and a bit of fun, so I’m pretty excited to drive on those three tracks.
“Like you said, Eastern Creek, Sandown and Bathurst were three circuits I missed last year so it’s two years since I’ve been there – I’m pretty excited to get back there.”
Courtney sits 10th in the Championship, 606 points off leader Jamie Whincup, highlights having been a win and feisty battle with Whincup at the opening Clipsal 500 and second after a killer strategy call in Townsville.
The team has battled with the Holden Commodores, and while Courtney was positive the upcoming circuits may better suit the cars, he was measured in his comments.
“We’re hoping it’s good,” he said of the upcoming part of the season.
“Typically Sandown has been good for us and Bathurst we’ve always been pretty speedy so I’m excited about those.
“Sydney is a bit unknown – last year as a team obviously I wasn’t there but Jack was just thrown in, but struggled a little. So it’ll be interesting to see there.
“The car, the way it performed, we were obviously not where Triple Eight and PRA are at, still need to find a bit of speed and consistency, so hopefully we can tick some of those boxes off.
“We’ve got a test before Sandown which hopefully we can really knuckle down and get some more ideas and answer some questions.”
Teammates Garth Tander and Warren Luff won last year’s Pirtek Enduro Cup by earning two fourth place and two third place finishes at the four endurance races, and Courtney believes its possible for the team to back up that result.
“The team won it last year, so it’s definitely achievable,” he said.
“At this point going into the event last year, people probably wouldn’t have said Garth and Luffy were going to win the Enduro Cup, so I think anything is achievable.”
HRT always proves strong in the longer, strategy-fuelled races, which Courtney puts down to expertise inside the garage.
“Our team is very strong strategically when the races are on and a lot of that comes down to the experienced older chaps in there like Macca [team manager Anthony McDonald], who keeps the guys on the stops calm because he’s been doing it forever.
“Robbie [Starr, engineer] it’s his 25th year with the team so that experience is priceless on those big events like Bathurst, Sandown and Gold Coast.
“I’m very confident in the strategy, that the boys will make the right call at the right time and it’s still probably the unknown is the ultimate car speed.”
The cars aren’t always perfect but there are other elements that are important in performing well.
“I think both Garth and myself are quite good at maximising what we’ve got,” Courtney said.
“We both drag 100 per cent out of what the car’s got. And over the longer races we can drag that much out of the car the whole day – we don’t taper off, or lose focus or make as many mistakes hopefully as the others. It’s typically why on the Sunday 200km or the 250km races Garth and I are able to drive through…
“It’s an exciting part of the year – I would be a little more content if we had more car speed down there; it is what it is so we’ll make do what we have.”