Dream return for Courtney as focus moves to ITM 500 Auckland

| Photographer Credit: Mark Horsburgh

James Courtney made a triumphant return to racing by pulling off a thrilling win with teammate Jack Perkins at the Castrol Gold Coast 600 at Surfers Paradise.

Courtney returned this round after he suffered five broken ribs and a punctured lung in a freak accident which sidelined him for two months. And what a return it was as he won in spectacular style with a clean drive and smart strategy from the Holden Racing Team in a tense fuel race.

Meanwhile Kiwis Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin continued their hot form, while Bathurst winner Craig Lowndes continued to make inroads into the V8 Supercars Championship lead of Mark Winterbottom.

All points to an exciting three days of racing as the V8 Supercars move across the Tasman to the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway on November 6-8.

The win today is Courtney’s first on the Gold Coast and Perkins’ first in V8 Supercars, a just reward for the effort Perkins has put in during the Pirtek Enduro Cup subbing as main driver the past two events.

Courtney beat Rick Kelly and David Russell in the Nissan Altima – on a similar strategy – by 1.9sec with teammates Garth Tander and Warren Luff home in third.

“The guys did a cracking job with the strategy, had pretty good car speed just battled on,” Courtney said.

“Jack’s done a great job filling in for me, he’s really stepped up … we need him back next year and we need him to do this every year.”

Perkins was clearly emotional in the closing laps, after starting the race from 11th on the grid.

“I’ve tried pretty hard for this, I’m just proud of what James and I could achieve,” Perkins said.

The third place finish meant Tander and Luff were awarded the Pirtek Enduro Cup – HRT’s first, and Luff’s second.

The HRT car started outside the top 10 with Perkins behind the wheel and in the early stages it was Steven Richards in the #888 Red Bull Holden who had control. Richards had a blinding start against the pole sitting Volvo of Scott McLaughlin and Frenchman Alex Premat, and handed over to Craig Lowndes in the lead. An ill-timed safety car meant eventual winners double stacked and the team elected to take an unusual stop for an early splash and dash.

Different teams went for different plays as they pitted the cars late in the race and while all eyes were on Lowndes, late in the race Courtney emerged as the key contender.

The question was whether they’d make it – and in a fairytale finish, he managed his fuel to the last to earn a fairytale victory.

The #888 finished fourth, ahead of yesterday’s winners Shane van Gisbergen/Jonathon Webb, while Championship leader Mark Winterbottom sacrificed more of his points lead, coming home 11th.

It proved a strong weekend for Kiwi drivers as they look forward with confidence to coming home for the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway in two weeks.

Van Gisbergen followed his victory on Saturday with fifth today- second behind Lowndes of the main contenders who had played by the numbers in strategy today.

McLaughlin revived his fortunes after a miserable Saturday with an excellent sixth place after earning pole, while Fabian Coulthard collected points in 13th without ever being a contender on a circuit that Brad Jones Racing has never come to grips with.

Andre Heimgartner with Ant Pedersen ran the Super Black Racing team into 18th, largely staying out of trouble on this fierce and unforgiving circuit.

It leaves Coulthard leading the way for the New Zealanders in fifth place in the championships, one spot ahead of the resurgent van Gisbergen. McLaughlin remains 11th with Heimgartner 22nd.

All attention turns to the sole New Zealand stop in the V8 Supercars Championship, with the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe.

The Kiwi interest will be in the fortunes of the in-form trio of Coulthard, van Gisbergen and McLaughlin and the first appearance at home for Super Black Racing and Heimgartner.

The series interest focuses on championship leader Winterbottom with his seemingly impregnable lead now cut to 258 points to Lowndes.

CAPTION: James Courtney and Jack Perkins celebrate victory at the Castrol Gold Coast 600 today.

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