James Courtney will not defend his V8 Supercars title with the Dick Johnson-run Jim Beam Racing team, it has finally been confirmed.
Rumours have been circulating that the Australian would be headed for Ford rival Holden next season, but the news was only confirmed once the former F1 aspirant had clinched the title at Homebush Park.
"Winning the championship with Jim Beam Racing this year is obviously one of the greatest highlights of my career so far," Courtney said in a statement announcing his exit, "We've had some amazing highs and some lows in my two seasons with Dick's team - but we came out on top and delivered a championship by taking on the 'big guys' and beating them.
"But I never like sitting still and really feel it's time for a new challenge - which will be revealed in the very near future. And it's important to note that Dick, the team and myself have ended our professional relationship still with genuine mutual respect and a continuing real friendship, which is pretty unique in this sport."
Courtney is expected to be confirmed at Toll Holden Racing Team within days, despite HRT being rocked by the death of team owner Tom Walkinshaw over the weekend.
“It's a shame to see the winning combination broken up, however James has decided that moving on is the best thing for him and his family and I respect that decision,” Jim Beam Racing owner Johnson added, “I've always had a great relationship with James and I'm very proud of what he has achieved with us. The history books will show that James Courtney won the 2010 drivers' championship with Jim Beam Racing and we will always hold him in the highest regard. I honestly wish James all the best but, if he thinks that means we'll go soft on him at the track next year, he has another thing coming!”
DJR recently revealed a change it ownership, with Johnson resuming the majority shareholding while co-owner Charlie Schwerkholt sells his shares and leaves the team. Johnson is believed to have purchased some of Schwekholt's share, with Crimsafe – an existing sponsor of the team – becoming a 'minority partner in the business', following what was described as a 'power struggle'.
Schwerkholt had helped Johnson save the team when it was in financial trouble but, according to Australia's Daily Telegraph
, had not been on speaking terms with the former champion driver for six months, and had been manoeuvring to sack Johnson's son Steve as number two driver. The change of ownership could have happened earlier but was delayed as the management worked through 'a number of issues', believed to include having Schwerkholt lease the team's Entitlement Contract back to Johnson, allowing the team to compete.
The team will continue to field two cars under the Jim Beam Racing banner in 2011.