JAMES Courtney is a man who knows what it is like to stand on the podium at the Bathurst 1000 as a minor placegetter and watch others celebrate the glory of winning what is arguably the highlight of the V8 Supercars series.
It is glory he wants to experience himself.
And when the Holden Racing Team driver comes to Mount Panorama this week it will be more than just the lure of a Great Race crown that is motivating him.
Success would help Courtney close the 238-point gap between himself and V8 Supercars championship leader Jamie Whincup.
Red Bull Racing’s Whincup has been the dominant driver in the series for the past five years, with four crowns and a runners-up finish during that time.
Many have challenged him for the top prize, but the only man to beat Whincup during this time was Courtney.
That was in 2010 when he was driving for Ford outfit Dick Johnson Racing and while he now races behind the wheel of a Commodore, Courtney still maintains hope of wrestling the coveted drivers’ championship title from Whincup’s grip.
“In the last five years, I’m the only guy to take him down for the championship,” Courtney told v8supercars.
“You’ve got no idea how much I want to do it again. We’re pushing like crazy to get that.”
The second leg of the Enduro Cup, the Bathurst 1000, offers the winning driver the chance to make a big move in the championship.
So while Whincup must balance his desire to win the Great Race with trying to maintain his championship lead, there is no doubt Courtney will put everything into winning at Mount Panorama.
It is a race he has come close to winning before - in 2007 that man Whincup and his team-mate Craig Lowndes were the only ones who finished ahead of Courtney.
He also has a pair of third placings from 2006 and 2008 - years that Whincup celebrated Bathurst 1000 glory.
“As a driver it’s the race we all want to win. This will be my ninth Bathurst 1000 start and so far my best result is second,” Courtney said.
“Bathurst is our biggest race of the year.”
It was back in 2005 when Courtney got his first taste of the Bathurst 1000, driving for the same team he now represents.
That year, acting as co-driver for Jim Richards, he quickly learned that Mount Panorama can be very unforgiving.Seven laps into his Great Race debut his bid came to an end.
After a touch over 17 minutes the Commodore he shared with Richards was the first to retire after encountering rear right and front tyre problems.
But since then things have improved for Courtney at Mount Panorama - he has only finished outside the top five twice and missed a top 10 once.
He has managed to do that even with a number of changes in who he represented - going from HRT to Stone Brothers, to Dick Johnson Racing then back to Holden’s factory team.
Helping his bid to finally win the Bathurst 1000 and improve his championship standings is Courtney’s co-driver Greg Murphy.
“Murph has won it [Bathurst] four times, so I’m hoping to get my name up alongside his on the list of race champions,” Courtney said.
“He has the stats to back himself up there, he’s been on the podium there plenty of times and has had really good speed every year.
“It was unfortunate last year not to challenge the guys for a shot at the win, but this year, definitely. I’m feeling a lot more confident.”
Certainly what Courtney and Murphy did in the Sandown 500 when placing fifth behind Whincup and his co-driver Paul Dumbrell indicates they are capable of finding success at Bathurst.
Twice the pair were sitting in last, at one stage they were a lap down, but despite having to have extra pit stops, they recovered well.
“It was the type of race where you can come away with nothing and see your championship destroyed,” Courtney admitted.
“So it was very satisfying to recover and score 222 points and improve from sixth to fifth in the championship. Importantly, I’m still in with a chance to win the title.”