lauda praises courtney
Lauda backs Aussie
By PAUL GOVER
THREE-time Formula One champion Niki Lauda has joined supporters of young Australian F1 hopeful James Courtney.
Lauda inherited Courtney as a driver when he took over the British Jag Junior team from ousted American Bobby Rahal late last year.
Courtney had just completed his first year of Formula Three, on a long-term deal with Jaguar, and also had his first F1 test at Monza in Italy.
At that time, Lauda spoke little of the young Australian, but moved quickly to sign his F3 team-mate - Germany's Andre Lotterer - as Jaguar's official test driver for the 2002 season.
After watching Courtney in his first F3 test of the year with new team Carlin Motorsport, Lauda has backed the Aussie.
"I must say the little kid is going really well. He is going to go with a good team in F3 this year and I hope he is going to win the championship," said Lauda, who is promising a massive shake-up of the Jaguar F1 team.
He also is planning the racing future of one of his sons, Mathias, who also drove on the F3 test day.
Courtney and Lauda Jr were tested by the Carlin team against their former driver Takuma Sato, last year's F3 champion who will race for Jordan-Honda in F1 this year.
"I watched Courtney at a F3 test in Wales and he was very impressive," Lauda said. "He was there for only the second time, it was a cold day and he was only two-tenths slower than Sato, who tests there all the time, which is really impressive."
Courtney, like Australia's Toyota junior driver Ryan Briscoe, has been named as an F1 tester, but will have a race program as his top priority.
Lauda has promised to give Courtney time in the latest Jaguar R3, and a good result could easily springboard him into a race place in 2003.
"We are limited to the amount of time we have available for him in the F1 car, but Lotterer is the No. 1 test driver and Courtney is No. 2 because of his F3 commitments," Lauda said.
"I really want to put him in and see how he compares with Lotterer, but it won't happen too quickly because I want to get the F1 program off the ground first."
Go the rat !!!!