DICK EXORCISES DEMONS TO LAUNCH ALL-NEW CAMPAIGNThis was not so much a launch as it was an exorcism.
Dick Johnson's humbled Shell Helix Racing team started on its long comeback road yesterday, barely recognisable in a new guise and with renewed determination.
Nothing much was spared in Johnson's summer stocktake, after a season the legendary motor sportsman described as the worst of his distinguished career.
There are new cars, new colours, a new driver in Max Wilson, and his newly slim-lined teammate Steven Johnson.
For Dick, it's a new beginning.
"2002 was by far our toughest year ever, and for a team used to winning, it was very demoralising," he said.
"V8 Supercar racing has moved at an incredible pace over the past two seasons and it's a fact that we fell behind. But we took a long hard look at ourselves mid-year, identified what needed to be done, and since then we have really reinvented ourselves."
Confirmation of diminutive Brazilian Wilson's signing was upstaged by the unveiling of the team's first BA Falcon, complete with a radical Shell-inspired livery makeover as clever as it will be unmistakeable.
Johnson will have two BA Falcons on the grid for next month's Australian Grand Prix support meeting in Melbourne.
Wilson's signing, swapped for seasoned touring car racer Paul Radisich, is a bold move. Blindingly quick but an inexperienced and volatile V8 racer, the former Formula One test driver remains on a steep learning curve.
But after a marathon 157-lap test session in the team's AU-model Ford in oppressive Queensland heat recently, Johnson was convinced of Wilson's ability.
"Max's times that day would have put the car on pole at last year's Queensland 500, and he did it all without even wanting a water bottle!" he said.
"[He] was very, very fast last year but his lack of experience racing locally told. Now he's done a season he understands how it works and we think he'll be exceptional, we can't wait to see him in action in one of our cars."
Wilson said he now feels settled in the V8 Supercar arena.
"Last year I proved I could get on top of the car to produce a quick lap," he said, "this year with the experience and expertise of the Shell Helix team I hope to put many fast laps together and get my first win in the series.
"2002 gave me the chance to get a feel for V8 Supercars and how far I can push. It also gave me a chance to become familiar with the circuits. Now it's time to get down to business."
Steven Johnson looked a new man at yesterday's launch, losing 13kg and 18cm off his waistline after an intensive summer fitness regime.
There's been fat trimmed within the team, too, with new General Manager Steve Chalker significantly restructuring the team's commercial operations.
"Chalks has developed the strategies behind the team's reinvention and given us greatly enhanced commercial strength," Dick Johnson said.
"It's an exciting time and it's going to be a big year."
--V8 WIRE (Jason Whittaker)
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