But for a massive F1 testing accident over eight years ago, James Courtney may never have secured his maiden V8 Supercars title, a feat the Dick Johnson Racing driver achieved in his Ford last weekend.
The then-22-year-old was a Jaguar F1 test driver while contesting the British Formula 3 championship in 2002, but suffered a suspension failure during a test at Monza that pitched him into the barriers at tremendous speed.
The accident knocked Courtney unconscious, and when he awoke, he found Michael Schumacher by his side while he was trapped in the car.
“I looked up and it was Michael Schumacher,” he told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“It’s a miracle that I survived,” he added. I went straight into the wall at 306km/h and [then] 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. It looked like a plane crash.”
While Schumacher dealt with the non-English-speaking Italian marshals, Courtney admitted he was “freaking out” when he discovered he was unable to move the right side of his body.
“I crashed at 67g,” he continued. “It took me a year to recover. I couldn’t walk without getting a migraine. Anything would set it off. Noise, light, anything.”
Courtney was a frontrunner in the British Formula 3 championship that year in the lead-up to the smash, and a title win would have propelled him into a race seat with Jaguar for 2003 – a seat that ironically went to his compatriot, Mark Webber.
After his recovery, Courtney raced for three years in Japan, and then returned to his homeland and debuting in the V8 Supercars championship in the series’ endurance races. He joined the series full-time in 2006, won his first race in 2008.
But in spite of his life now taking a very different course from what he may have envisaged all those years ago, Courtney remains circumspect.
“Who knows where [F1] would have taken me? I now live in the best country in the world and have love all around me. I couldn’t ask for more,” he said.
[Original images via AUTOSPORT]