Team HIFLEX’s Tony D’Alberto believes Holden Racing Team’s in-form James Courtney is the man to beat coming into the PIRTEK Enduro Cup after his long-awaited breakthrough at the Winton 360.
While it’s taken Courtney some nine Championship events to come into winning form this season – he scored the most points of any driver over the weekend and jumped from ninth to sixth in the Championship – performance has come at the right time.
And it’s something the two have in common, with D’Alberto having his best ever qualifying and race finish at the weekend.
Starting second on the grid for Race 26, the Team HIFLEX TDR racer became locked in battle with the HRT #22 in the second part of the race, though Courtney managed to get past on lap 25 to stand on the podium.
“I’m a bit dirty on James because he could’ve just backed off a little and let me stay in front – I would’ve done anything for him to let me stay in front!” D’Alberto joked.
“That’s great for the team and for Walkinshaw and just shows the all the effort that is going in is helping.”
Given TDR is a customer team of WR, any progress made is encouraging for D’Alberto, who’s best two results of the year were at the same events HRT succeeded in winning, bringing home sixth at the Sucrogren Townsville 400 and now fourth at the Winton 360.
“James himself is driving really well – he’s got good confidence, the direction of the car is to his liking and he’s making use of it. So he’s the man to beat in our sport at the moment.”
Add to that form the fact Courtney is pairing up with Greg Murphy, the co-driver with the most wins at Bathurst, and D’Alberto has a strong case.
In the second race of the Winton 360, D’Alberto found he was able to hold his own in third without stressing his Holden Commodore VF for the majority of the race – but while he had strong pace early on, felt he may have taken too much out of the tyres, which meant Courtney was able to pass.
“The back part of the race when James started pressuring and got past me, I couldn’t keep up with him. He had a bit more in reserve.”
The gap was five seconds at the end of the race, but it was the closest D’Alberto had been to the podium in his V8 Supercars career. And he is ruing his start, what he usually counted on as one of his strengths.
“I absolutely did the worst start of my life!” he said.
“I saw Bright prop and thought, ‘shit, I’ve got to go!’ and I just let too much clutch out. It broke into wheel spin and I just sat there! I was looking around like a sitting duck.
“Generally my A-game is my start, I generally get a really good start and I absolutely muffed it up.”
D’Alberto suffered from a broken sway bar in the final race – a part he didn’t expect to be the weakest link – but all in all, felt the weekend was the perfect way to launch into the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, during which he will pair up with Jonny Reid.
His only issue going forward?
“I have a few concerns about some of the reliability to be honest, but I’m really happy with the speed. A few more upgrades with the engines are coming, so I think that will help for Sandown and Bathurst with the long straights, because I still think we lack in that area.”
TDR will have a test day at Winton Raceway next week prior to the Wilson Security Sandown 500.
D’Alberto currently sits 16th in the Championship points.