After securing a first major motorsport title in seven years, James Courtney admits that he still wonders what might have been had a major testing shunt not prematurely curtailed his F1 ambitions.
The Australian, who secured a maiden V8 Supercars crown in Sydney on Sunday, was very much a single-seater coming man after success in the 2000 British Formula Ford Championship confirmed a reputation built on multiple international karting titles. The FFord title allowed Courtney to graduate to F3 the following year, a campaign that was also crowned by a maiden F1 testing opportunity with Jaguar.
Finishing fourth in the points at his first attempt, he returned the following season, and appeared to be on course for another title - one which would likely have propelled him closer to an anticipated meeting with the top flight - when his F1 testing duties caught up with him.
Running a July test at Monza with Jaguar, his likely grand prix entry point, at Monza, Courtney suffered the mother of all accidents, crashing at more than 185mph and suffering both mental and physical injuries that eventually saw his dream left in tatters.
"It looked like a plane crash - the track was closed because there were bits of car everywhere," he told Australia's Daily Telegraph
newspaper during the Sydney 500 weekend, "I was doing 330km/h in top gear and I got on the brake, [but] the rear suspension failed and pulled the rear wishbone out of the gearbox. A wheel was off the ground and I hit the wall."
The then 22-year was, unsurprisingly, knocked unconscious by the force of the impact - "I went straight into the wall at 306km/h and I got sent backwards at about 70 - they told me I was lucky my retinas did not detach because of the force of the crash," Courtney recalls - and found that he had lost all feeling in the right side of his body when he finally came around.
"I crashed at 67G and was paralysed on the right side of my body - I was freaking out," he confirmed, "It's a miracle that I survived, but it took me a year to recover. I couldn't walk without getting a migraine. Anything would set it off - noise, light, anything."
The first thing Courtney saw when he opened his eyes was multiple world champion Michael Schumacher and, while admitting that it was surreal to have the German leading the rescue attempt, it was also comforting.
"Everyone had to stop, but Schumacher made it on to the scene - he was the first there," the Aussie confirmed, "Anything could have happened because it was the biggest crash in F1 that year. Officials were talking to me in Italian, so Schumacher was the only one I could get any sense from. He tried to make sure everything was okay."