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Chaz Davies: The long road to success

From stuttered beginnings in GP racing, to racing across the pond and finding belated glory in Europe, Chaz Davies' route to the top has been far from plain sailing...
It's often said that the destination is what matters in a journey rather than the journey that it took to get there. Chaz Davies' journey to a factory Ducati seat in World Superbikes offers an insight into how winding the road to the top can be and the Welshman admits that a few shortcuts en route would have made life easier for him.

Variety has defined Davies' career to date from competing in the Spanish national championship, to 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP, as well as racing in AMA championships in the United States before returning to Europe to win the World Supersport crown and spend the last two seasons in WSBK.

For Davies the road to Ducati has been one filled with many cul de sacs and challenges starting from the outset with his 2001 season in the Spanish Championship.

One of three highly touted riders taken from the UK, Davies was chosen alongside Casey Stoner and Leon Camier, to race in Spain in 2001 after showing impressive speed in the Aprilia UK championship. Davies was one of eight riders chosen by Alberto Puig to join the Telefonica Honda squad.

The team was seen as a proving ground for Honda's world championship squad which enjoyed huge success with Toni Elias at the time. From his first test in Barcelona however Davies was facing an uphill challenge having never ridden a race bike in the past due to the Aprilia Cup running road bikes.

"The first try out that I had in November 2000 I was pretty young at 13 and it was straight in at the deep end," admitted Davies. "I had hardly ridden a race bike 125 because I'd done one year of the Aprilia Challenge, which is basically a road bike with the lights taken off, and I hadn't really ridden much in terms of a full on Grand Prix bike although obviously it wasn't top spec. It was a baptism going there for the first time and racing in the Spanish Championship because it was so competitive."

From his first test, when he was 13, Davies was forced to learn on the job and adapt to changes while riding in a team that featured a veritable who's who of future champions with Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Julian Simon the biggest names in the squad. It meant adapting to the level of competition in Spain was difficult for the young rider.

"It was massively different and I was nowhere near ready for it. It was only a try-out the first time I rode it and I was so inexperienced with race bikes that I wasn't up to speed on a Grand Prix bike so it was very different but it was enough to put me in a position in 2001 to be accepted as one of the Telefonica Movistar guys. There was eight of us in the same team in the Spanish Championship. That year Dani, Joan Olive and Raul Jara moved onto the World Championship with Telefonica so it was the feeder to the GP team."

While Pedrosa, Olive and Stoner all raced in the World Championship during the season Davies was hindered by running spec machinery from Honda, "it was a stock bike and it didn't even have an air-box," with so many riders in the team the fastest riders received the best kit and the rest were left to fight for the scraps as the season progressed with Davies even taking his own gearbox to races in Spain:

"It was Casey and Julian Simon that automatically at the start of the season started on Honda's 'A kit'. Casey had done well at the same trial that I did and he had done an extra race and him and Simon got given that kit straight away and then was bang on for the podium from the first race, more or less. Whereas the rest of us were on a bog standard Honda 125, they were brand new but they were stock standard and they don't come with the airbox so we didn't even have that because it was an optional extra.

"I was racing in the British 125 Championship and we had a full gearbox for that bike and we were taking that to Spain and putting it in the engine over there. It was little things like that we tried to improve the bike as much as possible.

“It was a good learning experience and though and I'd say that I probably wasn't ready for the A kit from the off, it would have been nice to have the shortcut. Over the next few years it could have been different if I'd been given a shot from the very start, but you learn a lot riding a pretty slow bike."

For 2002 Davies was forced to learn to adapt with riding an uncompetitive bike on the world stage following a move to the GP paddock with Matteoni Racing in the 125cc World Championship. For a young Davies the chance to race in Grand Prix was fantastic and at the time papered over a lot of the cracks that were presented by racing for the Italian squad.

With a lack of British riders coming through in MotoGP, Jeremy McWilliams was nearing the end of his career, Dorna placed Davies with Matteoni to try and develop him on the world stage. However the season with Matteoni was exceptionally difficult with the team struggling for cash, particularly as Davies' placement came at the expense of paying riders.

The season started with Davies thinking that his dreams of becoming a GP rider had come true, but it quickly transpired that he was racing through a nightmare instead as Matteoni cut corners to save money.

With the team having been forced to hire Davies for the season instead of their preferred option, a rider bringing with him sponsors, the team tried to limit expenses throughout this season. This came in the form of using old engines and avoiding rebuilds to starting races on used tyres. For Davies the season was exceptionally difficult with only a couple of chances to show his speed and start a race on a somewhat level playing field.

"From there you think that it's a dream opportunity because the year before, racing Hondas, the team had done quite well but it wasn't as we'd hoped. Dorna had pushed out the paying Italian rider and said that if Matteoni wants to run two bikes he had to have to take an English rider. It wasn't a good year because Matteoni couldn't give a damn about me and he wanted to just put the money in his pockets.

"He thought that I didn't cost him any money it was better so I'd start races on used tyres, even at Donington I started on used tyres. You wouldn't believe it if you heard half the stories. I was here trying to do my best to get picked up and you're not given the opportunity because one guy can't be arsed. Even the mechanics were saying that they were sorry but that we're under his control so there's nothing that they could do."

For the following season Davies joined Aprilia Germany and would spend the next three years with the team with some strong rides punctuated by more difficulties with the underfunded team. These three years crystallised for Davies the realisation that if a rider can start his career with momentum that the opportunities for progress are much easier to find.

"I think that as a rider, especially when you're that young, that if you can get a sniff of the fastest guys that it brings you on and brings you on to the next level. It's the same thing that if I'd gone from there to a factory bike, and I'm not saying that I would have gone to battle for wins, but if you start off on the back of that group and in sixth or seventh that you can move up the group. Some guys get that from the beginning and rock into 125's with all the kit around them."

At the time Davies' former teammates, Pedrosa and Stoner, were dominating the junior categories with Pedrosa claiming three titles and Stoner his closest competitor in 250's. Davies doesn't look back at those times with jealousy towards his former Telefonica Honda peers rather with a sense of an opportunity lost early in his career to have been able to show his potential/

"I'm not going to say that if I had been given the same bike as Casey and Dani because I know how good they are but to have been given an opportunity back then would have been good but I never got that. Whether I'd have done anything more with it I'll never know but to be given an opportunity, even from 125's, would have made such a difference. If you can rock in with the right situation with the right team everything back then was a lot more plain sailing. I think that it makes a difference for your career because you start at a higher level and progress whereas if you start at the bottom it's a long way up."

A move to Competella Racing in 2006 looked to have given him an opportunity to move forward and challenge in the 250cc class however, like many of his experiences in Grand Prix the dream quickly soured. Competella wooed Davies with the promise of upgraded equipment from Aprilia and large backing from their sponsors. Neither would materialise with the team struggling to raise finance once it became that the sponsor lacked the resources to meet his requirements:
"At the head of the privateers was me, Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Debon and we were consistently battling in the group behind the leaders but the sponsor only made one payment at the start of the year and after that payments were waiting to go through and obviously Aprilia won't give bikes without getting money so I was riding a 'bitzer.' The bike was made up of whatever was left from the previous season and whatever parts Competella had until the parts came through. It lasted a couple of races and I wasn't happy, I wasn't enjoying it and the results were shit. It wasn't a situation with any promise of the money coming through so it was basically a case of a sponsor who bullshitted his way into it and got a bit of exposure and had a big presentation but it didn't go any further of that."

Faced with the prospect of his GP experience ending before it had started, Davies found himself at a crossroads and unsure of where to turn. Truly believing it to be the climax of his career already, it would take an unexpected call from the United States to race in the AMA championship that presented Davies with an opportunity that would get him back into action

"I think that at that point going from shit results in GP's, being at home and doing only a little bit of riding it was pretty much that my career was over. I was washing my push bike at home and I got a call from Jeremy McWilliams who said that there was a guy in Ireland, Barry Gilson who runs Celtic Racing, and if I was interested he had a spare bike for the last race of the season.

"He said that if I was interested that I should go and do it, the tracks are a bit dangerous but if you want to do it you should give it a shot. At first, and it seems strange now, it took time to weigh it up because I'd never looked at the AMA because it had always been a retirement idea to race in America. But I wasn't doing anything of note so I decided to go there and see what happens and it ended up being the most enjoyable race for at least a couple of years.

“I did quite well and finished top five in both races at Mid-Ohio and it was the first time I'd ridden a four-stroke as well. It was good and I really enjoyed working with Barry and the team and it kind of kick started me again and showed that I wanted to keep racing. In 2007 I stayed with him and did the full season in Supersport and Formula Extreme. I had some decent results and it went pretty well."

With Davies enjoying his riding again and showing well on the American stage an opportunity presented itself at the 2007 US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Alex Hoffman crashed on the Friday and was injured and had to sit out the weekend. With limited options available at the time Davies was approached by Luis d'Antin to race Hoffman's Ducati that weekend. Like his opportunity in the Spanish Championship Davies was facing an uphill task having never ridden a MotoGP bike or even done a lap of the Laguna Seca circuit:

"I also got the opportunity with d'Antin to race at Laguna when Hoffman was injured. I think that I started on Saturday morning and having missed the practice session with the biggest bike that I'd even ridden being a Supersport bike getting on a Ducati MotoGP bike at Laguna, having never practiced or raced there, I don't think that you could have made it any more difficult! At the end I just about swum and it was a decent weekend. It opened the eyes of a few people because my lap times in the race were decent and the bike worked really well there.

"The grip at Laguna was phenomenal and then when we went to test at Mugello it went well too but for the three wildcard races at the end of the year - Sepang, Philip Island and Valencia - it really felt like I was in at the deep end because the other teams had tested there. Nobody was doing well on the Ducati expect Casey but I did alright and beat Edwards and Elias a couple of the Yamaha riders on Dunlop tyres."

After impressing Ducati in those outing the Italian manufacturer approached Davies with an offer to be their test rider. Twelve months before if Davies had such an offer it would presumably have been an easy decision to join Ducati however having enjoyed racing in the US the previous year it was no longer a straight forward decision.

"I had the option to be the test rider for Ducati that year. That was a spanner in the works because I'd just done the first race season that I actually enjoyed in a long time so I wanted to continue racing because I felt that if I didn't race I could be stuck as a test rider, which was obviously very flattering to be offered the test role at 21, but in the end I decided to carry on racing and see if I could get back to Europe through good results in America. Turning down the Ducati test role was probably the hardest decision that I've ever had to make and it's still one that I'm not sure was the right or the wrong call."

Deciding against the Ducati offer was a risky move for Davies and, despite victory in the prestigious Daytona 200, it proved to be a difficult season in the end.

However, an unexpected opportunity would present itself once again in the form of a ride with Triumph in the World Supersport Championship to replace the out-of-favour Gianluca Nanelli at Imola. It was an opportunity to once again race on the world stage and would ultimately lead to him turning around his career and the perception that people had of him as a rider.

"It's pretty satisfying to turn it around from being seen as a mid-pack rider to then win races and a title and be in World Superbikes now and having established a career for myself. It was good to get the opportunity in 2009 on a decent bike with Triumph and finish fourth in my first race and put together a solid season in 2010.

Having signed to remain with ParkinGO BE1 for another season, Davies was expected to be on a Triumph once more but a late switch to Yamaha machinery – which hadn't turned a wheel since 2009 – would prove a stroke of genius and would transform his fortunes.

“A lot came together in 2011 with good equipment from Yamaha and a good team to win the championship so that was pretty satisfying. I had to prove to myself that I was riding well and loving racing again in 2010 and I had some of my most fun races on the bike to finish fourth or fifth but in 2011 it all came good and I had the equipment to be able to make that step forward. It's satisfying to have a big trophy sitting at home for the effort!"

The opportunity to race for Yamaha presented with it with the unique pressure of riding the fastest bike on the grid and from the off Davies was keenly aware that suddenly he was racing a very different bike to what he had been used to in the past.

"I knew that we'd a strong chance because I'd seen what Cal had done on that bike previously so I knew that the package was strong. The first time I rode it the biggest difference was in the power compared to what I'd been using. We were testing at Portimao and the conditions weren't great but I remember coming over the last crest that the bike wheelied a decent amount, and I knew that the bikes that I had been riding wouldn't wheelie at all over it, so I knew that right from the start that with that bike and the team around you that a rider knows when they've a good shot at the championship."

A move to Aprilia and World Superbikes in 2012 beckoned for Davies and adapting to the bike and the power of a Superbike took time and plenty of early season crashes but a win at the Nurburgring and a strong finish to the season showed that he had adapted to the bike and a move to BMW followed in 2013.

Racing for the German manufacturer, which had officially withdrawn its factory team but still supported the team, was difficult. Without having the level of commitment from board level down there was a disconnect to the race team and the move to Ducati illustrated this for Davies.

"It's a big step to have the full factory package. BMW was close to it but it became evident this year that the big difference between BMW and Ducati is that you deal with the race department and overall it's pretty small in a company the size of BMW the race department is a minor part of it and I'm not really sure how much they cared about it last year. As it's came out maybe they didn't care about it too much at that point.

"To be able to move to a factory team with Ducati where, it sounds cheesy but, the passion is there. It's not just a saying about Italian passion because it was pretty evident from the first meeting with the team in Bologna and the team launch. There was Gigi Dall'igna, my chief mechanics and electronics engineers, chassis engineers and we were just casually chatting about the bike at the team launch but next thing we were in a meeting room with the CEO of the company! The connection is that tight and it's not like at BMW where I didn't know anyone outside of the race department. We were all sitting around a table talking about the strong points, where we need to improve and where we're decent."

Competing with the factory Ducati squad also presents opportunities to test the MotoGP bike and the team has agreed to give Davies that opportunity later in the season. Having struggled to show his speed in the Grand Prix paddock Davies is itching for a chance to set the record straight and show what he can do in the premier class.

"I think that it would be a good opportunity to cut my teeth there again if I had an opportunity with a good team around me. I'm happy in Superbikes at the moment but the goal is to go back there in a competitive situation and to have another crack at it. I'd love to have the opportunity in the near future but we'll see how it pans out."

Having overcome so much adversity in his road to this point Davies may well still get an opportunity to finish his journey to the premier class.


Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Chaz Davies - Ducati SBK [pic credit: David Salisbury]
Chaz Davies - Ducati SBK [pic credit: David Salisbury]
Davies, Portuguese WSBK, 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
Fernandez, Magny Cours European Junior cup 2014
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Mercado, Magny Cours SSTK1000 race2 2014
Lanusse, Lussiana, Metcher and Mercado, Magny Cours SSTK1000 race2 2014
Lanusse, Lussiana, Metcher and Mercado, Magny Cours SSTK1000 race2 2014
Lanusse, Lussiana, Metcher and Mercado, Magny Cours SSTK1000 race2 2014

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locky

August 02, 2014 12:33 PM

Great rider, nice bloke, deserves a proper shot at GP-not some lashup Dorna grid filler. Stay and win on Superbikes, better than making up the numbers in GP. What does the Welsh national anthem sound like?

reinmacre

August 02, 2014 3:40 PM

Watched Chaz race the R6 for Celtic Racing in the AMA. Fast from the jump, and he fit in nicely with fellow racers and teams in the paddock, making many friends. Also, at Laguna in 2007, all of a sudden I noticed Alex Hoffman wasn't going to race because of injury and CD7 was thrown into the the mix on the Ducati. Looked fast and like he belonged out there. Dude paid his dues and is now WC and a factory star. Great story!



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