Steven Johnson has surprised his legendary father Dick Johnson by unveiling a tribute helmet to complete DJR’s 1994 retro theme at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
While the Shell-inspired colour scheme and matching race suits had been planned by the team for some months, Steven Johnson instigated the addition of the helmet in relative secret.
The 1994 Bathurst 1000 proved to be Dick Johnson’s third and last Bathurst victory and remains the most recent for the Queensland-based squad.
It also doubled as the younger Johnson’s Bathurst debut, driving the team’s second car.
“It wasn’t planned as part of the livery, it was something that I’d come up with just before Sandown,” Steven Johnson told Speedcafe.com of the tribute helmet.
“A couple of guys at work made up the stickers to replicate his old helmet and on the back there’s a little photo of dad and JB (co-driver John Bowe) on the podium.
“The old man was pretty pumped for the weekend already but it was good to surprise him with this.”
While DJR has run retro looks in each of the last two Bathurst 1000s, this year marks the first to be driven by Johnson, who returns to the fold after a year at Erebus Motorsport.
Johnson and primary driver David Wall had a tough run to 16th place at the Wilson Security Sandown 500, where the #17 Ford was hampered by a faulty damper.
Team-mates Scott Pye and Ash Walsh finished fifth at Sandown and, with Bathurst’s historical significant to DJR, Johnson is optimistic of a greatly improved performance from his entry this weekend.
“I think every team lifts when you come to Bathurst but you see a real spring in dad’s step when he comes here,” he said.
“That really filters down to everyone in the team and for me, I’ve got a really positive outlook on the weekend.
“The boys have put in so much effort getting all the little bits right. You don’t have to have the most horsepower or the most of everything, but it’s about putting it all together.
“DJR had fast cars here last year and (technical partner) FPR won the race. I think we can fight for a podium, which would be like a win for us.”
DJR will be operating under the close eye of Team Penske at Bathurst ahead of the American outfit taking a 51 percent stake in the squad next year.
Penske president Tim Cindric and incoming team manager Jeff Swartwout have flown to the event from their native United States, joining Penske-appointed technical director Nick Hughes in the DJR garage.
While already benefitting from Hughes’ input over recent weeks, Johnson says Cindric and Swartwout will be observing this weekend to understand more about the category and are realistic about the challenge ahead.
“They haven’t got experience in V8 Supercars, which is why I think they’ve joined with us,” he said of the Penske presence.
“People are saying ‘watch out next year’, but people need to understand that they’ll need a couple of years to get their heads around things.
“You’ll definitely see an improvement (next year), but to see them get to the level of Triple Eight, I think it’ll take a few years.”
As for this weekend taking on more meaning as the last Bathurst for DJR in its current guise, Johnson stresses that his family will still have a share in the team in future.
“A lot of people probably haven’t thought about it in that regard, but I think the really good thing is that the Johnson family will still have a solid stake in the team,” he said.
“We’ve been here in the doom and gloom days with someone else owning half the team, so there have been other years that we haven’t had sole ownership.
“But no doubt it’s the most significant, to have the Penske name coming in. You’ll see a fairly different approach to our racing next year with their influence.
“Putting what we know and what they know together, I think that with time, it’s going to be a really good thing.”
The 40-year-old Johnson added that he hasn’t had any discussions about his own place in the team under its Penske ownership.
“Whether I get a full-time seat or not, I think I’ve got a long time as an endurance driver still to offer, as well as racing other categories,” he said.
“If I’m not looked at there (DJR Penske), I don’t think there would be a drama with me getting a seat somewhere.”