Bryce Fullwood is about to enter some pretty exclusive company.
It’s already been celebrated that the 21-year-old will this year become the first Northern Territory native to compete in a full Virgin Australia Supercars Championship season. Likewise in July he’ll be the first hometown driver to race at Darwin.
His status as a rookie driver for Walkinshaw Andretti United, announced last week, is almost equally as much a landmark feat.
Rarely before has the Walkinshaw organisation – which dominated the series in the late ‘90s and 2000s – entrusted one of its cars to a first-year steerer.
Excluding Nick Percat, who ran for customer team James Rosenberg Racing in 2014, only one rookie has raced for the Walkinshaws in the past 17 years.
That man is David Reynolds, who debuted in the category in a Bundaberg Red-backed third entry in 2009.
That season did not work out overly well for Reynolds, being dropped at the end of the year, but he has gone on to blossom into one of the sport’s premier drivers.
Prior to that, brothers Todd and Rick Kelly debuted in Walkinshaw-run Holden Young Lions operations in 2000 and 2002, respectively.
But you have to go even further back to find the last time Walkinshaws ran a rookie in one of their lead two entries.
The last driver to have that honour was Greg Murphy in 1997, a year after Craig Lowndes had won the title at his first attempt for the then Holden Racing Team.
Fullwood wasn’t even born until a year after that ’97 campaign, highlighting the rarity of the opportunity presented to him.
WAU may not currently be the powerhouse they were at that time: its 2019 drivers placed 11th and 12th in the championship, with a single podium between them.
But with its alliance between the Walkinshaw and Andretti families and Zak Brown’s United Autosports, it could be just a matter of time before significant progress is made.
Wiping the slate clean – seeing long-term drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye move on – and headhunting supreme talent Chaz Mostert was a clear sign of their ambition.
Mostert is a race winner and a championship contender.
Fullwood brings plenty more than sponsor Middy’s Data & Electrical to the table. The fifth season of his Dunlop Super2 Series apprenticeship last year was a stunning show of ability.
Driving a MW Motorsport Nissan, he never once qualified worse than fourth, only once finished a race worse than fourth and blitzed the field to seal the championship by the penultimate round.
Fullwood also showed promising speed as a Kelly Racing endurance co-driver and survived a wild race to finish fourth in the Sandown co-driver sprint.
The Walkinshaw rookies in the years before him have gone on to achieve plenty; in fact, each has won Bathurst at least once, and Lowndes and Rick Kelly became series champions.
If that’s anything to go by, the WAU team see a special talent in Fullwood – one that could be a fixture on the grid for many years to come.
We’ll leave you with these words from Ryan Walkinshaw… “He’s certainly someone we have watched closely over the recent years, and his outstanding season in 2019 shows the calibre of driver he is.
“It’s definitely going to be an exciting journey, Bryce is an outstanding driver, and person, and we are really excited by what we can achieve together going forward.”