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."

The accident effectively denied Courtney a shot at the British F3 title that year - he finished second in the standings behind Briton Robbie Kerr - and, although he bounced back to win the All-Japan F3 crown the following year, he never got another shot at F1.

"If I didn't have that accident, I would have won the British F3 championship and that would have given me a seat in that [Jaguar] car the next year," he claimed, "Who knows where that path would have taken me?"

After a couple of seasons racing in Japan, Courtney finally returned home, finding a berth in the V8 Supercars series that eventually led to this year's title success with Jim Beam Racing. The repatriation also provided the now 30-year old with more than just racing happiness.

"I now live in the best country in the world and have love all around me, so I couldn't ask for more," he insisted, referring to wife Carys and his two children, "However, [driving] is the only thing I have ever wanted to do and I never thought about quitting. I got to test again the year after the crash, but it cost me an F1 drive.

"This is the only thing I can do, but [the crash] did set me back. Mentally it was tough, but it made me stronger."

Courtney's redemption was completed by Sunday's V8 title success, achieved after season-long battle with reigning champion Jamie Whincup.

Although the crown was secured with a lowly 14th place in the final race of the series in Sydney, the five-year series veteran enjoyed an eventual 65-point margin over his Team Vodafone rival, courtesy of five wins, three seconds and a third in the 14 rounds in his Dick Johnson Racing-prepared Ford Falcon. Ironically, the success came after his car was badly damaged in a crash in Saturday's first race at the Homebush street circuit.

"It's a great feeling to finally be champion after such a long season," he admitted, "We started back in February and, since then, so much has happened on and off the track. I'm just happy to come out the other end with the most points.

"Jamie and I have both had our 'ups and downs' - he led the early part of the championship, then I got to the front, so it's been a good battle. Our team put in a big effort to win this thing, and I'm very grateful to them and our sponsors and supporters. This weekend was like the whole season - you never knew what to expect next.

"My crew were working until 3am this morning fixing my car after yesterday's crash, and today's race was about getting the job done, which I found harder than going all-out for the win. I was cruising in the last stint, keeping out of trouble because I knew if I held position it would be enough."



Loading Comments...