If there are three words we’ve all become very accustomed to hearing over the last couple of months, it’s ‘coronavirus,’ ‘unprecedented’ and ‘lockdown.’
COVID-19 has been the most devastating pandemic for a generation and has left its mark on all aspects of global life as we know it. Rallying is no exception, but identifying the most effective ways to limit the damage done to the sport isn’t a job for the competitors. So what can they do in this downtime?
DirtFish’s star American rallying crew Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani have been using their time wisely.
“It’s a bit frustrating when the Google alerts come out showing where I’m supposed to be this week [Rally Portugal] and of course that’s not happening,” Kihurani admits.
“Of course there is a bit of extra time to review onboards, recopy pacenotes and that sort of thing, which is nice to have. Fortunately, I still have my day job at EY, and that’s been ticking over as usual – and in some ways it’s busier than it was before – so I don’t have these long periods of time during the day to fill.
“But in the evenings I’m definitely not doing what I used to do, so obviously I’ve had a bit of time to play some DiRT Rally 2.0, build a live stream setup, and have some fun competing against my rally friends and competitors who I can’t see at the moment.”
Kihurani isn’t just looking to improve his virtual driving skills and set-up though. Instead, he’s been reaching out to as many top-line co-drivers as he can in order to further his understanding. For a man that’s been competing for well over a decade, this is impressive determination and commitment to be the best.
“I do have a co-driving coach that I work with quite a bit, Craig Parry, but with co-drivers it’s actually really good to get other perspectives from different co-drivers, just because every co-driver has their own tricks and the more people you talk to, the more tricks you learn,” he adds.
“What you pick up from one co-driver generally isn’t mutually exclusive from what you’d pick up from another. At the moment all the other co-drivers are stuck at home too, so I’ve been reaching out to renowned co-drivers that typically wouldn’t be as available and seeing what more I can learn.”
Kihurani is still in regular contact with his driver Johnston too, almost daily, as they discuss various projects such as sponsorship brochures and a new website as well as catching up with each other.
But away from business, Johnston is adopting a similar strategy of bettering himself which he admits he is “grateful” for. He is still seeking thrills as and where he can though, as seen in a recent Instagram post.
“There was a narrow downed tree across a filthy, mucky pond and my girlfriend asked ‘How much money would you need to be paid to cross that?’ I was like I’m just going to go and do that right now!” Johnston explains.
“I definitely still find ways to challenge myself. I also get outside daily, that’s what helps keep me sane. I don’t have the day job like Alex does, so I’ve been working on designing new structures to help me use my time more effectively and intentionally, and get to projects that I didn’t have the time for or had been putting off.
“For some projects and tasks, I realized I was still avoiding them even though I have all the time in the world now! So I’ve actually been using this time as an opportunity to look into myself and really consider ‘What’s the root of my hesitation on this?’
“I’m heartbroken for the world that we’re all suddenly confronted with a whole new set of challenges through this and I’ve found a silver lining by holding this time as an opportunity for personal development, to really look at my life and confront old patterns that had been under the surface, disguised by my excuses of being too busy.
“For sure I want to get back into a rally car but I simply can’t at the moment. So instead of just sitting around, it’s been good to work on building more meaningful structures for my time, which hasn’t always been as easy as it sounds. When there’s less pressure and deadlines, having the discipline to take care of the important things becomes a harder ask and a bigger task for me, so I’m learning a lot about myself through this process and I’m grateful for it.”
It’s fair to say the USA is grateful for Johnston and Kihurani too though as the pair strive to become the first all American rallying crew to become factory drivers in the WRC. This dream may be paused for now, but it’s one both men are determined to achieve.
“This sport has absolutely captured my heart,” Johnston says, “and I’m committed to it and I love it and I’d love to see it grow in popularity in the US.
“I think if Alex and I were to make it to the top level of the WRC it would be a lifelong dream come true for Alex and while I haven’t had this dream my whole life like he has, it certainly has become our collective dream.
“Even to be in WRC3 in a class of the World Championship in an R5 car, I feel like it’s a huge step for both of us and is incredibly exciting. And for sure we’re working very, very hard to see what needs to be done to realize the next steps in this journey. We would love to be ambassadors for the sport of rallying in the US and to do our best to grow the popularity of this sport in a country that both of us call home.”
Fans will have the chance to watch Johnston in action sooner than they thought however as he takes part in the official Rally Portugal WRC Esports shoot-out. His quarter final will be streamed later today and he’ll be up against somebody rather familiar; his co-driver.
Will the navigator upstage the driver? DirtFish will be chatting to them both next week for the full reaction.