James Courtney is one of the only V8 Supercars drivers in the field to know what Mark Winterbottom is going through: mental hell.
The Prodrive Racing man sits 258 points clear of his nearest challenger, wily veteran Craig Lownes, in the championship standings as he attempts to win a maiden title.
Courtney has been there, in 2010 when he safely defended a lead through the endurance races through to Sydney.
Winterbottom has to navigate three race meets; in Auckland, Phillip Island and Sydney to claim a series victory that has eluded him for more than a decade in the sport.
Speaking after the practice day at New Zealand’s Pukekohe circuit, Courtney said the career Ford man would be doing it tough.
“It’s not going to be a pleasant time,” he told AAP.
“It’s more of a mental battle than anything else, you have to try very hard to keep focussed, racing and going forward.
“It’s a mind game he’ll be playing with himself, he’d be very aware on how many points Triple Eight will have pulled out of him over the last couple of rounds.”
Winterbottom has finished in the top five every year since 2006 but has never been so close to the prize.
Courtney said that could add another level of difficulty.
“The hardest thing is, he hasn’t been in this position before,” he added.
“I’m sure he’s a lot more comfortable than if it was an 80-point lead but in some ways, a bigger lead is harder because you don’t want to take those extra risks but you can’t afford to back off.
Winterbottom said he would stay focussed on race wins.
“You’ve just got to race, you don’t change your approach,” he said.
“You get in a position because of what has worked for the first eleven rounds.
“You’ve just got to go for wins and see what happens to everyone else.”
Courtney is out of title contention after missing Eastern Creek, Sandown and the Bathurst 1000 from a freak pit-lane injury.
His quickest lap around the Pukekohe circuit was only good enough for 11th and after an “eventful” day the 35-year-old said he was far from where he wanted to be in New Zealand.
“We’re just trying to get a good compliant car over the bumps, like everyone,” he said.