All eyes will be on James Courtney during today’s opening practice at the Castrol Gold Coast 600 as the driver attempts a return to action following his injury lay-off.
The 35-year-old has surprised many with the decision to step back behind the wheel just two months after suffering five fractured ribs and a punctured lung at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Although he has already gained medical clearance to compete, practice will be the first true test of Courtney’s fitness and ability to withstand the forces of the punishing Surfers Paradise circuit.
Such is the team’s confidence in Courtney’s preparedness, it is said to have no formal substitute arranged in case the driver is forced to withdraw suddenly.
Greg Murphy had been floated as a potential replacement in case Courtney was ruled out pre-event, but told Speedcafe.com on Thursday that he remains committed to his role with V8TV.
While the situation has led to suggestions that the squad is “in denial” over the difficulty of the task facing its driver, Courtney says he plans to “just suck it up and keep pressing on”.
Rivals believe that the forces exerted on the body around the punishing street circuit will be a big test for the HRT star.
“I certainly wouldn’t want cracked ribs driving around this place,” six-time champion Jamie Whincup told Speedcafe.com.
“Because of the kerbs, especially through that triple chicane at the back, it’d have to be the hardest event to carry that sort of injury into, for sure.”
V8 Supercars legend and Fox Sports analyst Mark Skaife said earlier this week that he thought Courtney would have been better served sitting out the remainder of the season.
“I don’t know when he says he’s 100 percent if that’s really 100 percent,” said Skaife. “I know it’s been his decision, but I would have parked him until the end of the year.”
Despite the punishing nature of the circuit, Courtney’s team-mate Garth Tander believes that the biggest challenge may come in the pitstops.
“The driver changes, they are brutal on the body the way you jump in and bang and crash into the seat,” he said.
“There’s no subtle way of doing it and there’s a lot of pressure on the changes here because you never do a full tank fill. That’s the thing that I would be thinking about the most.
“Physically (the Gold Coast event) is hard on the body as well. If you hit a wall here you hit it hard. There’s no soft crashes here.
“But you have to weigh up the pros and cons and I guess James feels the pros (of driving) outweigh the cons.”
Regardless, Tander stresses that Courtney’s co-driver Jack Perkins is more than capable of shouldering the bulk of the workload this weekend if needed.
“He’s been exceptional since he jumped in the car midway through Friday at Eastern Creek,” Tander said.
“I’ve known Jack since he was four years old but never operated in the same team before but I’m so impressed with the way he’s gone about it.
“If he needs to step up and take over as he has done for the last three events, he is more than ready.”
DJR Team Penske’s Scott Pye is also carrying an injury into the event, having fractured a single rib at Bathurst a fortnight ago.
Although the damage was far less severe than Courtney’s, the team has put Steven Johnson on standby just in case.
“The fortunate thing for me is that I’m not at risk of damaging myself any further, it’s just how much pain I can put up with,” Pye told Speedcafe.com.
“I’ve had a painful few days this week of not taking pain killers to make sure they’re as effective as possible. We’ve got a good plan in place to deal with it.
“It’s good that this track doesn’t have any long loaded corners, but obviously the aggressiveness of the kerbs could be a bit of a problem. Hopefully when I’m in the car the adrenalin will take over.”