James Courtney is talking like a kid again as he prepares to fire up in a Boost Mustang for the rebooted 2020 Supercars season.
He sounds more like a 10-year-old rookie karter than a 39-year-old Supercars veteran as he unwraps the packaging around the new deal that puts him into a Tickford ’stang with a no-excuses package funded by his well-funded friend, Peter ‘Boost’ Adderton.
After walking away from a deeply flawed deal with Team Sydney, following a deeply disappointing time with Walkinshaw Andretti United, the 2010 series champion is genuinely happy for the first time in a very long time.
His personal life is back on track after a messy and time-consuming divorce, he has a new house on the Gold Coast – although it looks like the star of an episode of ‘Love it or list it’ – and he knows that Adderton has his back. And a big bank account.
There is no clearer reflection of Courtney’s comeback plan than his new racing number.
He has chosen 44 and, before you ask, he’s not a Lewis Hamilton fan. He did most of his junior karting with #44 and it’s the number he has always wanted.
“It’s been my favourite number for my whole life. I ran it when I was karting when I was young, much younger than now,” Courtney laughs as he talks to Race News.
“I’ve always tried to get 44, and asked all my teams to change it for me, but no-one would do it until now. When I told Peter he said ’No dramas at all. If that’s what you want that’s what you’ll get’.
“It’s something nice that Peter was more than happy to do. It’s a bit of history. It’s cool. And I like it.
“And that’s one good thing about Peter and Boost, they understand that the number and everything else adds up to the person. It’s different to trying to change the person to fit the brand.”
If the Courtney-Adderton connection sounds like a Supercars sugar daddy deal then it’s time for a (very) short history lesson.
“Peter has been a supporter since ’96. He’s shown his loyalty to Chad Reed in Supercross in the ’states and it’s the same with me,” says Courtney.
“There is no end date to anything. He said ‘As long as you’re happy and fast then I’m here’.”
There has been plenty of unhappiness and a general lack of speed for most of the time since he aced Jamie Whincup for a last-gasp title win with Dick Johnson Racing.
Courtney does not play well with others, and his roster of sketchy in-house rivalries includes Garth Tander and Scott Pye. No-one on either side has much nice to say.
He went to the Holden Racing Team with his mate and ex-DJR team boss Adrian Burgess, but the pair could never unlock a winning combination with the Commodore crew. There have been some deeply disappointing days and Courtney was not able to disguise his frustration.
He hoped everything would change when he connected with Jono Webb and Tekno for 2020 and it did. It got worse. Much worse.
He decided to walk away after a disastrous debut at the Adelaide 500 and was prepared to sit on the sidelines, although there was soon talk of a Wildcard connection to Erebus Motorsport for a series of guest appearances in a third Commodore.
“Not being in the championship, or looking like you’re not having a ride, gives you a bit of perspective. This is a reality check, for sure.
“But the nightmare of the Tekno experience is behind us. I’m very excited.”
Courtney knows some fans are blaming him for Will Davison’s exit from Tickford, but he calmly explains that the Boost deal was only put together once it was clear that the 23Red package with cash-strapped Phil Munday, who lost his major sponsorship from Milwaukee tools at the same time as his main business interests were torpedoed by COVID-19, could not continue.
Now Courtney is preparing for a new home, a new car and a new challenge in Supercars.
“Nothing has changed. It’s the same Tickford package, car and crew, as before,” he says.
“It’s just a change of the paint-job, the number and the driver.”
But things are definitely different as the Tickford Mustang is a proven race winner and it’s Courtney who has to prove that he can still do the job.
Once again, the 10-year-old bounces out.
“I haven’t been this confident in the package that I’m arriving at the track with in, well, I can’t remember. I’m not going to be fighting to get into the top 10 or top 15. It’s great to know I’ve got the right package.”
So, what’s the objective?
“Winning, of course. I’m not in it to come second. Winning is what I want, and what Boost wants, and Tickford as well.
“I wouldn’t have made the move if I didn’t’ think the car could do it. Ok, I’m going to be learning everything again, but the team has a good group of other drivers and I’ve worked with Lee Holdsworth before.”
But he’s not being stupid.
“We don’t have a timetable or anything. But by mid-season we should be regularly going for podiums. After that … “
“And I know that Triple Eight and Penske usually have a little bit over my guys.”
Turning back to #44, Courtney says JC 2020 also means a return to his original green-and-yellow helmet design.
“I’m back to pretty much what I used in karting, the number and helmet. I’ve gone back to where I started.”
And does #44 also reflect his ambition to race in Supercars for another five years?
“I hadn’t thought about that. I’d be happy if I could still be racing at 44 in the main game. But we’ll just have to see.”