Johnston picks ERC to learn new tricks
A driver whose knack of racing video games had steered him on a path to a career in sportscars will continue his rallying transition in the FIA European Rally Championship this season.
Sean Johnston, who was enrolled into the Nissan GT Academy in North America as one of the USA’s fastest five Gran Turismo 5 video game racers, claimed the 2012 IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge title. He then moved to Europe to race in the Porsche Supercup and Porsche Carrera Cup Germany and, more recently, long-distance sportscar events, before he made rallying his focus.
During a stage-winning debut season in the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in 2018, Johnston tried the ERC for size on PZM Rally Poland last September and finished fourth in class. He will contest a full ERC3 campaign this year in a Saintéloc Racing PEUGEOT 208 R2 alongside a Junior world championship bid. His fellow American, Alex Kihurani, will co-drive.
However, despite his achievements in circuit racing and initial success in rallying, the 28-year-old from California is keeping his expectations firmly in check as he prepares for the upcoming season.
“To have the opportunity to do this kind of programme is an incredible learning experience and learning is the primary objective for me this season,” said Germany-based Johnston. “I don’t have any expectations of coming in and winning either championship because I will be competing against people with way more experience in rallying than I have. I need to learn, grow and develop and getting in as many kilometres as physically possible is really interesting for me and I’m very grateful to have the support to do this.”
While Johnston points to being “relatively comfortable” on asphalt, his gravel experience amounts to three events only. “I got to the point at the end of last season where I was comfortable with the recce process and was confidentially able to drive to my pacenotes,” he said. “I still have more to learn on Tarmac, but gravel was a completely new experience when I tried it last year. However, I absolutely fell in love with it although it’s clear I have a lot of work to do to be quicker and take the next step. The training I’ve been doing on snow and ice in the winter will be directly applicable to driving on gravel but I will also be doing a pure gravel test with Saintéloc before the beginning of the season.”
To cope with the demands of a dual European and world championship campaign, Johnston and Kihurani have completed two training camps in the off-season, while Johnston is also learning French in order to build a stronger bond with his France-based Saintéloc Racing team given a two-year stint in R2 cars is a probability. “The goal is to learn as much in R2 as possible and I’m thinking that’s more likely two seasons,” he said. “My aspiration is to make it to the full world championship but it’s a very big dream. I think about it once a day when I wake up but then I go back to the next step that’s right here in front of me.”