WHERE THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY
Forget last year’s results. Forget the overall standings. Will Davison is one of Australia’s best race car drivers. A prodigious third-generation talent who has tasted early success at every stage of his career. But now his biggest challenge lies ahead. Turning his third V8 Supercars team, Erebus Motorsport into a Championship winning force. And he is convinced it’s tracking in the right direction.
Will, how are things shaping up for the new season with Erebus?
We can’t wait to get going, as is the case with everyone. You know, we’d absolutely love to think that we’re going to put in a much better showing than last year. I think that naturally being the second year with the team, working with those people; we’re only going to be stronger. So, we’re certainly going to start the year much better than we started last year. But, yeah, we know we’ve got a lot of development yet to go in the car. At the moment, I don’t think it’s quite there to say we’re going to go and get the championship, but, you know, we’re really comfortable. We’ve got some big things coming in the next three or four races. I’d love to have it on the car right now, but we’ve got to try to just get off to a real steady start and make sure that we really ramp it up as the season goes on.
You finished 14th last year. How do you and the team reflect on that result? If you’re being brutally honest, was that a success, pass or fail mark individually?
Well, it’s really hard to look at a championship position because you can have a solid position by just consolidating and scoring lots of points. It can be the absolute opposite where you showed mass potential and you’ve just had some things go against you. To be honest I think we were capable of probably better than 14th, but it actually came down to the second to last race of the year. We scored our first ever pole position. I was running comfortable in the top three, top four and it was that one little mechanical issue with the power steering, which caused us to not finish the race and if we’d just finished where we were running that would have been tenth in the championship, which last year was my ultimate goal. I thought if I could finish around tenth that I would think that it would be a great achievement. So, we achieved some things last year that we’re all really happy with, some things we’re not quite happy with, so we’ve got to be more consistent. The team got a race win pole position, we had a podium. I think I had 14 or 15 top ten’s in qualifying, so they took it up a long way from where they were in 2013 and we’ve just got to really make sure that we perform at that top five, top seven, top eight level much more regularly and then I think the podiums and wins will come more consistently.
Every driver wants to be in the best car, the winning car, but you sort of took that possibility away from yourself by making the change to Erebus. When you made that change, what sort of long term plan did you look at? Did you look at it being maybe a three-year project or something like that? Can you quantify what you had in mind when you made the shift?
You are right, I mean, right now I’m desperate to be up there winning races again. But I knew it would take time when I came to Erebus. That’s why I signed a long term contract, a four year contract because I knew it was going to take a couple of years and I knew I had to be patient and that was the one thing that I knew was going to be the biggest test, was not losing patience. It’s really rewarding, to be honest, and there’s plenty of top six positions that spring to mind that have been very rewarding. I’m not going to say they’re better than any race victory I’ve had because nothing beats that, but certainly there were many podiums at FPR where I finished third and that was a failure because winning at a team like that is really the only option. And, you know, I’ve been third, I’ve been fourth two years in a row in the championship. To be honest, we’ve achieved great things and I’ve got amazing memories from those couple years, but really the only goal was to win and we didn’t achieve that, so I really wanted to be a part of a team where I could be a part of the process of building it from the ground up and hopefully turn it into something absolutely great. There are stumbling blocks. There are things along the way which are frustrating, but I knew it would be personally more rewarding and I’m currently going through that phase now. It was hard to leave FPR as I said. It’s a fantastic team. What can I say? They’re a world class operation, but I just thought Triple 8 kept toppling us over and I wasn’t interested in being third or fourth. I wanted to, you know, bring a team up to be number one and at the moment we’re not even at the level of FPR, but hopefully in a little bit of time we will be and even better again.
Using that analogy, your journey is just like Gary Ablett in the AFL. He left the Cats and he goes to a team that’s got a long-term plan. That’s what you’ve done. You’re just like Gary Ablett!
Well, I mean, it actually is a little bit like that and that’s the easiest way I try and explain it to people. You know I haven’t won a championship, but I’ve been second, I’ve been third, I’ve been fifth. So, it’s there, you know. And I really want to make sure I get another sniff at winning one again. And you’re right, I have effectively walked away from a great opportunity and it’s every young driver’s dream to be at the top teams and I’ve been fortunate where I’ve driven for some of those big teams and I’ve taken a lot of those experiences and a lot of that knowledge with me and I feel like I can bring into some of these privateer like teams so to speak. There are many pros and cons in my whole thought process and at the end of the day I’ve found myself incredibly fortunate where either option that I took was going to have pros and cons and I went with my decision, I backed myself and that’s where I am. I’m enjoying my racing. We are the underdogs and I’m looking forward to punching above our weight a bit more this year but there’s no hiding behind the fact that in not so long I want to make sure we’re not an underdog. I want to make sure we’re going in with pressure on us to win and that’s what happens when you start performing consistently up the front. Soon people expect it more and more. So, I’m still enjoying the underdog status but as I said, hopefully in not so long our expectations on ourselves and other people’s expectations on us will be incredibly high because that’s the ultimate goal, is to go out there and win again.
How do you look back on that 2009 to 2013 period of your career where, as you touched on, you were second. You were third. Do you look back on it with frustration that you couldn’t quite go to the next level?
No, because I’m really proud of what I achieved. It’s been a little bit messy jumping ship here and there but I know the decisions I made were really well thought out and I feel like I maximized every opportunity I had. I think I was the highest placed HRT driver since Mark Skaife when I finished second. So, I’m proud of what I did in ’09. I know 2010 was a really tough year for the whole team in general, particularly me and I didn’t just go running and looking for the door. It was circumstantial. I think, with the people they had in place at that time that there was a lot of blame game going on and it was really hard for me to be in that position in 2010. I really don’t have anything bad to say about FPR. The three years there they were absolutely fantastic. They were a team on the way up and I was really able to re-establish myself and win a lot of races and I really had the most successful years of my career without quite getting that championship. We had a really great time and it was unfortunate, to be honest, the time I happened to be out of contract with that team was a time they were facing some real tough challenges themselves with Ford and with ownership changes and what not. Getting a new contract was much trickier than people would ever know and that’s what opened up the opportunity to talk with Erebus and now I’ve got this chapter in my career and the championship is so competitive now, there’s so many fast young guys out there, that, I tell you, I’m hungrier than ever to make sure I get back to my best and get up there and challenge for another championship.
Yeah, but there’s a Bathurst win among that CV though. What’s that feel like to win Bathurst?
It’s so awesome. I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to get one tick next to my name. It feels like a long time ago now, but I’m proud that I was able to do it with Garth (Tander) and HRT. It’s an incredible brand but it’s that sort of race, like I say, that’s why I’m nearly relieved that I’ve got one but I’ m so frustrated I haven’t got two because I feel like I’ve gone back in years since and I probably performed better than I did in ’09. Qualifying poll in the top ten shoot out in 2012 was one of my career highlights and in 2011 and ’12 I was off in the lead off the front row absolutely doing it easy in the first stint and everything’s gone wrong against me. But that’s Bathurst, it’s that sort of race. Where you can bring you’re A-game and you’ll get nothing out of it and on the other hand it can be a race like last year, where it’s a race of attrition. No one would’ve predicted who won last year. So, anyway, I’ve got one and incredible memories and certainly after doing it once you probably don’t appreciate it at the time and after five, six years reflecting on how cool it was, the next time you would certainly grab it and really soak it up that little bit more.
Your grandfather was a champion driver. So was your Dad. When the Davidson’s get together and talk about car racing and their career who’s got bragging rights? Where’s a Bathurst win sit in the scheme of things?
Well I don’t know. You’re sort of pretty in the moment. It’s really hard for me to even get my head around it at the moment. One day, you’ll probably look back and realise it’s all a pretty big deal but while you’re in the moment it may as well be the club championships as a 12 year old in a go kart. It’s got the same meaning to you personally because you’re competitive and you just want to get the most out of yourself. It’s cool that I’ve been able to add some stuff to the family history. I feel proud that I’ve been able to do that because we’re all just racers. We’re all really passionate about it. We love sharing stories and I’m proud of my family heritage. I like adding to that and I suppose I feel pressure to make sure I keep adding to it.
Given how good they are, do you believe in genetics in producing a good racing driver? Do you think that it could help you be a better driver or is it irrelevant?
That’s hard to know. There has to be genetics of certain things in sport. With motor racing, there has to be something in it. You need a certain amount of screws loose I suppose. But, it’s much more methodical than some people realise and it comes from a deep passion. I think with any sport or any hobby or anything you apply yourself to, particularly from a young age, when you’ve got that hunger for something and you’re so obsessed, you have that desire to do something and you put enough effort into honing yourself, you’re going to be good at it, but I don’t know. There has to be some sort of genetic stuff in there. I can’t answer that, but I’ve put a lot into it. It’s not something that’s been handed to me on a plate for sure.
Obviously there is guys at Mercedes. Volvo is now on the scene and Ford is having its struggles. Are we at a point in car racing where new manufacturers are going to continue to emerge over the next few years do you think?
Yeah, I think they will. The category’s changing. It’s really opened itself up for new people to come in, particularly in 2017 on when it can be a two door, it can be a five door, it can be a hatchback, it can be a V6, it can be a turbocharged engine, it can be a V10. It’s really opened itself up to new manufacturers to be able to promote their brand or their product and make it much more relevant to its road cars. We’re certainly seeing that now with Volvo being competitive. The Nissans I think are going to be very competitive this year. Ford have announced that they are not involved in the sport financially, but the passion from the fans and the dealers I think will stay in the category for a long time yet and I think they’re on for a pretty strong year this year to be honest with an updated version of their Falcon. The championship is so strong. I mean, Holden is committed to it long term and Mercedes we at Erebus. We’re probably the only privateer team out there so to speak. We don’t really get any backing from Mercedes. We’re coming from a passionate team and I Betty Klimenko (left) puts everything into it. We could do with some backing from a big brand like that and it’s a shame they’re not really on board with us, but we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve got great people and we’ve got our factory and we’re still running this Mercedes brand and ANG brand and we’re going to do whatever we can to make it successful. If we can start winning, that’s what you’ve got to do first and foremost and then the excess backing comes after that.
You’ve got one of the prouder and more passionate bosses in Betty. What’s it like having her in the garage during a race?
It’s good. She’s passionate. At the end of the day, she loves being there because it’s her hobby. It is a business as well so it’s interesting splitting the two, but you just want to give her success because she loves it so much. She loves seeing the team thrive. She loves the team environment. She loves people supporting each other. That’s what she’s all about, everyone working well together and I think that Erebus environment is very passionate. We love giving her good results because she loves it. She eats and breathes it and she put a lot into it, so when we see evidence of that coming to the top it feels really cool to be able to give that back to her.
I guess if it’s not Betty hassling you in the garage it’s your other half with your partner Riana Crehan well known to V8 Supercars fans as part of the television broadcast in pit lane.
Haha. Well, she doesn’t hassle me at all actually. She’s busy doing her own thing, carving her own career and doing very well for herself, so I’m incredibly proud of her. She’s done well and she knows the sport inside out. I tell you, it’s really handy to have that support at the track always and she’s always there for me, but she doesn’t get in the way so to speak. She’s busy doing her own thing. It’s good to have someone who understands the sport and what I go through so well.
I guess if you’re talking to her it’s a good thing, because it can mean you’ve done well.
Oh, not always. They come and speak to you when you’ve had a shunt or you’ve had a shocker as well. She knows a lot of the drivers and she shows a lot of compassion to the drivers when everything goes bad and rides the wave. I tell you, I couldn’t do it without her support, but they’ve got to do their job and that’s what you’ve got to understand. There’s really bad times when you just don’t want someone in your face and they’re the ones who have got to run there and get that big quote when the emotion’s running hot. That’s them doing their job and they do a great job. So I’m always happy to talk to them.
Has there been a time when it’s all done when you’ve said, “Hey, what did you ask me that for? You could have gone easy on me.”
No, she’s alright. She’s good. You’ve got to give it to them and if I don’t want to answer, I won’t answer. Actually at Clipsal last year in my first race with Erebus where I got put into the fence at turn eight, you know a big shunt. I actually got out of the car and all I wanted to do was storm to the truck and vent on my own. And as I’m walking away, I could hear this voice in my ear going, “Will, Will.” So, I’m just thinking “oh, she wants to have a chat” and then I heard “I’m live on air” and she’s actually live on air, so I turned round and gave her the interview. That was quite a funny moment.
You’re keeping the owner happy. You’re keeping the fans happy. But, most of all you’re keeping the boss happy by the sounds of things!
Yeah and when she’s happy, life’s great.
Best of luck with the season ahead.
Thanks a lot. Cheers.