Steven Johnson Takes #17 into the New Millennium
The start of the new millennium heralded the beginning of a new generation in the Shell Helix Racing Team; with Steven Johnson taking over the famous number 17 Falcon from his retiring father. After a full season behind the wheel, Paul Radisich had come to terms with the feel of the V8 and the circuits in the series, leaving him to finish the championship in fourth place in only his second attempt at the championship.
In Steven Johnson’s first full year in the series, he also put in some credible performances, bringing his Shell Helix Falcon home in 11th place in the championship. Steven was joined for the Queensland 500 by father Dick, who made a one-off return to the driver’s seat, but the pair failed to cross the line when mechanical difficulties left their Falcon unable to continue.
Jason Bright joined Radisich for the endurance races and Cameron McLean came on board to partner Steven Johnson for the FAI 1000. The Radisich/Bright duo crossed the line in second place in the famous Bathurst event, while the pairing of Johnson/McLean finished not far behind in fourth place.
2001 saw Johnson break through with his first ever V8 Supercar pole position, first ever V8 Supercar race win and first ever V8 Supercar round victory. He also finished the Championship in fifth place, the first Ford home.
Probably the team’s most forgetful year in recent history, 2002 saw a mixed bag of results for Steve Johnson and Paul Radisich. Struggling to find the correct set up all year, a number of on track incidents involving the duo proved expensive for the team in its pursuit of a V8 Supercar series championship.
While 2002 saw some disappointing qualifying times, to their credit, Steve and Paul were consistent come race day, regularly making their way through the field to post a credible finish position.
In 2002 Greg Ritter joined the team for endurance events and piloted a third car, #71 for a selection of other races. Greg’s performance highlight was at the gruelling Bob Jane T-Marts 1000, where he teamed with 1980 F1 World Champion Alan Jones to record a respectable seventh.
2003 saw new cars, new colours, a new driver and new commercial and technical resources herald the rebirth of Australia’s oldest professional motor racing team. Sporting all-new Shell Helix colours the team signed Brazilian international Max Wilson to drive its number 18 entry in 2003. Shell Helix Racing went into 2003 with more resources than ever before and a new commitment to success.
The early season hard work was starting to show in the latter half of the season with both drivers making the top-ten repeatedly. Johnson, partnered by Warren Luff, made the shootouts at both Sandown and Bathurst and showed everyone that he’d lost none of his competitiveness with two eighth placing’s, and an overall top-six result at Indy. At the same time Wilson took pride of place in the series final three shootouts and drove to a spectacular podium at Eastern Creek.
There were further changes to Shell Helix Racing by the start of the 2004 season. Wilson had returned to his original team, and Warren Luff, who had already proven his worth with two magnificent drives in the Konica and main series at Bathurst in 2003, was recruited to full-time driver alongside stalwart Steven Johnson.
It may have been a slow start to 2004 but the sleeping giant of V8 Supercars arose from its slumber by mid-season when Johnson and Luff made the podium at Sandown. Enjoying the success, Johnson and Luff took their strong form to Bathurst which they almost won.
The only team to four-stop, Johnson led Ambrose into the pits for his final stop but a wheel problem prevented him from staying in front. With second almost wrapped up, former team mate Paul Radisich parked his Ford at the top of the mountain forcing the safety car. Several cars took advantage of this, pitted and re-entered the race ahead of the number 17 Ford. Johnson and Luff eventually finished seventh. With back-to-back top 10 placing’s, Johnson’s aim for the remainder of the season was to secure outright 10th in the Championship. With three more top 10 finishes he did just that and for the first time since 2001 Shell Helix Racing saw itself in the end of season top 10.
Dick Johnson’s team may have finished the season strongly on the track but behind closed doors DJR was dealing with a situation that it had not experienced for many years. It’s naming sponsor, and supporter of more than three decades, Shell, was exiting the sport. Senior management had their work cut out as they frantically searched for a new organisation to take over sponsorship.
In early 2005 DJR had secured Westpoint Finance as the major team sponsor. The team was called Westpoint Racing which saw DJR return to its traditional blue and white colours.
2005 again saw a change in driver line up with Warren Luff departing and racing legend Glenn Seton replacing him in the number 18 Ford.
The season ended strongly for the Dick Johnson Racing team, but the end of the year brought a close to the team’s association with Westpoint and Glenn Seton.