Will Davison: Mountain high, history steep
WILL Davison grew up as part of a motor racing royalty in Australia.
But even he had to pinch himself when lining up for his first drive in the Bathurst 1000 in 2004.
Then a fresh-faced 22-year- old, suiting up for Team Dynamik, Davison was right alongside none other than the King of the Mountain himself, the legendary Peter Brock.
At 59, Brock was having one final fling in the race he had won a record nine times, less than two years before his passing after a crash during the Targa West rally at Gidgegannup in Western Australia.
Davison, a third-generation driver whose grandfather Lex created his own history on Mount Panorama, had not long returned from a stint in England, racing in the British Formula Renault and British Formula 3 championships.
He didn't start the race, with co-driver Dale Brede taking that honour in their Holden VY Commodore, but his heart had certainly begun racing when standing right next to "Perfect Peter" on the starting grid pre-race.
"I knew Peter reasonably well," Davison, 34, tells Australian Regional Media.
"He'd done a few fundraisers for me. He was really supportive of young drivers ... be it getting into V8s or going over to Europe.
"I remember standing there on the grid, national anthem playing ... it was a bit surreal being next to the 05 red HRT Commodore and having a chat with him about his experiences.
"And he was giving me some words of wisdom ahead of my first ever Bathurst 1000 ... pretty incredible.
"Anything Brock said had a certain aura around it, particularly as a young guy.
"Saying the simple things like respect the mountain ... take your time, it's a long day ... soak it up, enjoy the atmosphere.
"All these years on, 10 years since he passed away, it's gone pretty quickly."
Davison did not have to look far for inspiration when starting his racing career. Lex Davison, after all, was a four-time Australian Grand Prix winner - he died in 1965 at the age of 42 in a crash during practice - and dad Richard was a winner of the 1980 Australian Formula 2 Championship.
While Davison was "fascinated with Formula 1", he was "equally obsessed" with touring car racing.
"It was right in front of you every weekend," he said.
"It's the sort of event that as a young kid just puts those stars in your eyes."
And no driver shone more brightly than "Brocky", who won the Bathurst 500 in 1972, before it became a 1000km event, in a Holden Torana. His last win came in 1987 in a VL Commodore.
"I wasn't blinded by a team or a manufacturer, I followed drivers," Davison said. "DJ (Dick Johnson) and Brock are the ones that stand out to me. Whether Brock was in a (Ford) Sierra, a Commodore or a BMW, he was just the Mobil 05 car to me."
Davison would follow in Brock's footsteps all the way to the top of the podium in 2009 when he claimed the coveted crown, getting the wave of the chequered flag in his own VE Commodore, with Garth Tander as co-driver.
"My first three attempts were all pretty disastrous, in '04, '05, '06. We had accidents ... the place had bitten us.
"I remember thinking, 'what have I got to do to get this thing home?'
"But I was on a pretty good run in '07, finishing third with Steve Johnson driving for Dick Johnson Racing and getting a podium and very nearly winning - we were leading with five laps to go.
"In 2008, back with Dick Johnson Racing and having a very good shot at it, running in the top two or three all day, we could've finished second then but exploded a tyre and finished fifth or sixth.
"I had a couple of years to build up, got a taste of the race. I'd seen my best mate win it back to back to back in '06, '07, '08, (Jamie) Whincup and (Craig) Lowndes.
"You never feel like you deserve it, but I had enough runs at it where I'd got close to winning, so you start getting that bug where you feel it's within your grasp."
Davison had crossed to the Holden Racing Team for the 2009 Supercars series, "filling some big shoes of (six-time winner) Mark Skaife" and trying to appease a "huge fan following".
"Driving that car at Bathurst there was a huge amount of weight on the shoulders," he said.
"(But) I felt pretty ready ... it was a pretty mythical weekend for us, to be honest.
"Bathurst threw it all at us on that day ... we had some hiccups but got back in control, and back on track.
"It was just an incredible experience to win it."
Aside from his own experiences on the mountain, Bathurst was already a special place for Will and the Davison family.
The Bathurst Light Car Club's Lex Davison Gate at the top end of Conrod Straight is a constant reminder of his grandfather's exploits as one of Australia's first motor racing superstars.
One of Lex Davison's record four Australian Grand Prix wins - a mark equalled only by the great Michael Schumacher - was in the New South Wales town in 1958 while behind the wheel of an old Ferrari 625.
"I've actually got his trophy here at home," says Davison, who grew up in Melbourne but is now based on the Gold Coast.
"And I've seen some amazing photos of Lex in an open-wheeler going around Bathurst in the '50s."
While happy he was able to add the Davison name to the Bathurst history books via the 1000, Will still dreams of taming the mountain for a second time.
After a stint with Erebus Motorsport driving a Mercedes, he's back in a Holden with the one-car team of Tekno Autosports.
He sits in sixth position on the driver standings, on the back of a win in the second round at Symmons Plains, heading into this weekend's Bathurst 1000.
"We are a single-car team," says the immensely popular Davison, who finished second in the Supercars drivers' championship in 2009 with HRT, fourth and third in 2012 and 2013, respectively, with Ford Performance Racing and 14th and 15th in 2014 and 2015 with Erebus, driving the Mercedes.
"Of course it's different, to be honest, but it has it's strengths and it has its weaknesses.
"We've got a very small crew but sometimes it's quality not quantity. "You do go without some luxuries. You lack some resources. You might have one guy doing four jobs "(But) it's a real team spirit and a real team culture ... It's got that closer feel about it than some of the huge factory teams I've been involved with.
"We've had a few bad days, but more often than not we've been in the mix," he said.
"So if we get everything right we can absolutely win this race. It's exciting to go there knowing you've got as good a shot as anyone.