James Courtney is convinced that a major development direction change at the Holden Racing Team will help the squad shake its tag as street circuit specialists this season.
Courtney took his third Clipsal 500 race victory in three years under dramatic circumstances today as he held off arch rival Jamie Whincup in an intense battle.
While the team has repeatedly starred on street circuits such as Adelaide only to struggle at other venues, Courtney is confident that off-season gains will carry beyond Clipsal.
The team’s latest moves have included switching from Sachs to Supashock dampers, which were first raced by Courtney at Sydney Olympic Park last year.
Teams are free to choose between the Sachs, Ohlins and Supashock; which shot to prominence last year after being adopted by Prodrive.
Courtney says that missing four events due to injury last season saw his team make an early start to 2016 development after he returned for the final events.
“The silver lining in the cloud of my dramas last year was that I was out of the championship hunt, so we took some massive risks on my car and changed a lot of big componentry to try and get a direction,” explained Courtney after today’s win.
“I think we’ve made quite a good step forward. The car is a lot more consistent through the corner whereas last year we had a massive balance shift as the car was loading.
“Even though the car wasn’t good (at the end of the race), I was still able to predict what it was, it’s very consistent and gives a lot of information back so that I can do what I do to try and help it.
“If I was in that position where I was today with last year’s car I’m 99 percent sure I wouldn’t have stayed in front.
“I think it’s definitely going to help us as we go through the season at other tracks with longer corners where they’re not so short and sharp.”
Courtney emphasised the importance of the dampers, stressing the squad’s struggles last year while it was running the Sachs, which are imported into Australia by rivals Triple Eight.
“We’ve done a massive amount of work with the dampers,” said Courtney.
“Our car was quite badly damped last year and after we’d come off an impact, it wasn’t so much the kerb strike as the landing.
“It oscillated for a long period of time and we couldn’t get the car to settle to have the drive.
“It’s been a big step forward for us. Not only here the car was very good, but at Winton we suffered there quite a lot over the last couple of years and didn’t have the speed we needed.
“The car reacted really well at that test day. Fingers crossed it will carry through the year.”
Having appeared to have the fastest car in both the soft and hard tyre races, a relaxed Whincup downplayed the HRT’s improvement.
The six-time champion was however left to rue a poor start, which saw him drop from second to fourth.
“I wouldn’t say he was stronger than we were today,” noted Whincup when asked of Courtney’s performance.
“Let’s not take anything away from their result, they did a good job and deserved the win.
“But our shock absorbers aren’t too shabby.”
Both drivers meanwhile laughed about their increasingly bold battle during the closing stages, which saw them flirt with disaster at the high-speed Turn 8 sweeper.
“I had to be 110 percent committed to Turn 8 every time to get enough of a margin so he wouldn’t get past at the last corner,” smiled Courtney, who had slid his car through the 210km/h corner on the final lap.
Courtney also praised the Holden Racing Team’s off-season downsizing from four cars to two, which was triggered by the loss of third car sponsor Supercheap Auto to Prodrive.
“It’s a lot smoother in the team, debriefs are a lot more streamlined and the information is a lot clearer,” said Courtney of the changes.
“It’s a lot easier and we seem to be happier as a team.
“Manufacturing and things, it makes the development twice as fast because we don’t have to make four times the componentry so that everyone’s car is the same.”