Wheldon passing difficult: Courtney
MOTOR racing drivers accept our sport can be dangerous, but that doesn't make it any easier dealing with the passing of Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon on Monday.
Dan was scheduled to be my co-driver in this week's Gold Coast 600, and share a Toll Holden Racing Team Commodore with me in the two 300km V8 Supercar races.
I had known Dan a long time and we considered ourselves friends. We first met when I moved to Europe to race karts in the mid-90s.
Dan was British, but moved to the United States to further his career.
He won the Indy 500 and the Indycar Series in 2005, and then claimed a second Indy 500 title in May this year.
His passing is difficult for those of us who have lost a mate, but most of all, as a father of a young family, I am struggling with knowing Dan's wife Susie is now without her partner and their children, Sebastian and Oliver, will grow up without their father.
Driver safety is constantly evolving and improving, but occasionally big accidents like we saw in Las Vegas do happen.
The biggest shock for the motorsport community, and drivers in particular, is that it could have been any of us and that's the reality check everyone takes out of this.
I know Dan was looking forward to coming to the Gold Coast, and it would have been cool to have had a mate I'd known a long time in the car with me. This week will be tough at times for all of us.
Ex-McLaren Formula One test driver Darren Turner has stepped in as my new team-mate for the Gold Coast. He has considerable sports car experience and has raced touring cars in Germany and Britain.
Toowomba's Will Power injured his back in the Las Vegas Indycar crash and has been forced out of the Gold Coast event.
He was to partner Mark Winterbottom in an Orrcon Steel Falcon, and has been replaced by Richard Lyons from Ireland.
Tony Kannan, another Indycar driver, will also be absent from the Gold Coast, and Denmark's Allan Simonsen will now partner Jason Bargwanna in the Jana Living Commodore.
However, three drivers who raced in the Las Vegas Indycar event have arrived in Australia this week and will race on the Gold Coast. They are Ryan Briscoe, who will share the other HRT Commodore with Garth Tander, Helio Castroneves, and Alex Tagliani.
The biggest change with this year's Gold Coast race is with co-drivers.
Championship regulars are teamed with either a notable driver from another country, or a leading overseas-based Australian or New Zealand competitor.
The new regulations provide an increased international presence in the field, with competitors from Italy, Germany, Finland, France, the United States, Denmark, and Austria.
These co-drivers have raced categories including Formula One, other open-wheel classes, sports and touring cars, and Nascar.
They are all professionals, and very good in cars they race regularly, but some have never driven a V8 Supercar before which creates challenges, especially on a street circuit.
On Wednesday the co-drivers had a test session at Queensland Raceway to familiarise themselves with our cars, and two of the four practice sessions on Friday are set aside solely for them so they can adapt to the 2.96km Surfers Paradise street circuit.
Some of the visiting drivers with Formula One experience include Tonio Liuzzi, Mika Salo, Gianni Morbidelli, Jan Magnussen, Sebastian Bourdais, and Emanuele Pirro, who is also a five-times Le Mans 24-hour champion.
Another change to this event, compared to 2010, is we will qualify and race exclusively on Dunlop's soft-compound 'sprint' tyres instead of 'control' rubber. Each car has been allocated 10 sets of 'sprint' tyres.
I've always enjoyed driving on the Gold Coast, with the car sliding around on bumps, man-hole covers, white lines, drains, and different cambers.
I hold the race lap record (1-minute 13.133-seconds), but so far I haven't won a race there. My best to date was a third in the second race in 2009.
Craig Lowndes took the championship lead from Team Vodafone team-mate Jamie Whincup in the previous round at Bathurst, and they will be among the favourites on the Gold Coast.
Lowndes, who leads the series by 100 points, will share his Commodore with Briton Andy Priaulx, and Whincup's co-driver is Frenchman Bourdais.
CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after round 10)
Craig Lowndes (Holden) 2329
Jamie Whincup (Holden) 2229
Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford) 1920
Garth Tander (Holden) 1848
Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 1687
Rick Kelly (Holden) 1663
Will Davison (Ford) 1646
Jason Bright (Holden) 1502
Alex Davison (Ford) 1448
Steve Johnson (Ford) 1411
Other: James Courtney (Holden) 1177