All-drive Johnston picks ERC round for world practice
Sean Johnston is back in the FIA European Rally Championship this week and back on Rally Liepāja – only this time he’ll be driven by four rather than two wheels.
After making his debut on the super-fast gravel round in 2019 driving a Saintéloc Junior Team Peugeot 208 R2, Johnston returns in one of the French squad’s Citroën C3 R5s.
With the FIA World Rally Championship Johnston’s focus following his graduation from European level, the American has chosen Rally Liepāja as perfect practice for next month’s Rally Estonia.
“This is a warm-up for Rally Estonia but it’s knocking the rust off and it’s my first event with an R5 car on gravel,” said the Germany-based Californian. “I did Rally Hungary last year, that was my R5 debut but it was on Tarmac. There’s a lot to learn but we figured we’d love to do a proper competitive event but treat it as a test. The ERC is good environment and one where we can get a good baseline.”
Can’t wait for the waiting to end
Johnston and co-driver Alex Kihurani haven’t competed together since Rallye Monte-Carlo in January although they did complete the recce for Rally Mexico prior to the global lockdown.
“Alex and I are definitely waiting for some kilometres in a rally car,” said Johnston, a regular in ERC3 last season. “The primary objective for the rally is to get the kilometres and get the experience so we’re not going to be out there pushing. We’re tweaking some things with the pacenotes because that was the feedback from ourselves after Rally Hungary. The amount of information I had in my notes was too much for the R5 car. That’s also why now that the lockdown is over relatively speaking, Alex and I are able to work together on our pacenotes so there will be new things we’ll be using in Rally Liepāja. It will be a learning weekend for us.”
Previous Liepāja knowledge a plus
Johnston reckons his Rally Liepāja experience from 2019 will help him as he acclimatises to Rally2 machinery. “We know the characteristic and the spirit of the stages from doing the rally last year,” said Johnston. “It’s great for us because it’s also what we’re expecting to see in Estonia. Liepāja is an event we feel comfortable with and it will be good preparation for us.”
Looking to Lukyanuk
With ERC title leader Alexey Lukyanuk spearheading the Saintéloc attack on Rally Liepāja, Johnston will get the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from the Russian.
“That’s one of the things I’m really grateful for driving for Saintéloc is you can have a conversation with somebody like ‘Lucas’ in the service park,” said Johnston. “I will watch some of his videos, learn about his driving style and set-up and also have lots of conversations with the engineering staff at Saintéloc. For sure I’ll be able to learn plenty.”
Rally Liepāja runs from 14-16 August with the first of 10 stages from 12h20 local time on 15 August.