Why a Rally3 champion felt the need for redemption

After his huge accident on August's Barum Rally Zlín, Jon Armstrong felt he had a point to prove to himself

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In a season that’s netted six class wins from almost as many starts, and a class title in the European Rally Championship, the last thing you expect to hear the driver with those achievements talking about is the need to redeem themselves.

Most competitors will tell you there’s no such thing as perfection in rallying, but surely that’s about as close to perfection as anyone could hope to get?

Jon Armstrong probably doesn’t disagree. In terms of the season-wide objective, it was mission accomplished in 2023.

But as he looks ahead to 2024 and furthering his international rallying career, there was a hurdle he had to get over.


Because Armstrong’s true 2023 results card in the Rally3 car reads like this: class win; class win; class win; class win; class win; crash; class win.

The last class win on that list, claimed at last weekend’s Rallye du Var in France, was crucial in getting over the obvious outlier – the crash. Armstrong and his co-driver Cameron Fair were extremely fortunate to walk away from what was a horror smash on Barum Rally Zlín.

That was August. Armstrong hadn’t been in a rally car since. So he knew he needed to get back out there to put his mind at rest.

“I’ve had a few bad crashes where I’ve come back and it hasn’t been an issue, but the one in Barum was probably even worse than those in terms of how close it could’ve been to serious injury,” Armstrong tells DirtFish.

“So I didn’t really know how it would be – you don’t want to come back and be slow, be hesitant or have fear.”

Just to up the stakes even further, Armstrong was driving the very same car – chassis 111, the first of the updated Evo versions of the Ford Fiesta Rally3 – that he crashed all those months ago.

“It was definitely hardcore,” he nervously laughs. “Maciej [Woda, M-Sport Poland managing director] could have easily put me in a different car but I think if you’re going to do it, you take it head-on.

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“You see the car for the first time and it looks brand new again, you’re trying to look around and see if there’s anything similar to before, but yeah I think it definitely felt a bit strange. You look up where the cage had been more bent beforehand, and you’re wondering if it could happen again – but it’s down to me and what I do.

“Those sorts of accidents don’t happen that regularly. We all know that they can happen, I just feel that I’m lucky I’m able to get back in and drive again and when you’re driving you’re the one that’s in control, you have to believe in yourself.

“There’s so many people that would love to do what I’m doing. There’s people that aren’t here anymore that definitely you have to think of in those moments and think of what they would have wanted you to do.

“I think I’m just really happy I was able to do it.”

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Var was definitely the chance I needed from M-Sport Poland to redeem myself to myself and feel better about the year again Jon Armstrong

They’re stunningly reflective and candid words from a driver who’s clearly a very deep thinker.

“I wouldn’t say I was trying to prove [anything] to people, I was sort of trying to prove to myself or redeem myself to myself if that makes sense?” Armstrong continues.

“I know rallying’s one of those sports where it’s a big sport but it’s a small world as well – I know what I can do and people will always think what they want to think, so there’s no point trying to change their mind really. It was more to do it for me, for myself, and more mentally I would say.

“I’m one of those drivers where… I don’t know how it comes across, but one of those drivers who cares a lot about putting in a good performance and, like, I want to always be fast if that makes sense?

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“That’s what drives me is to be fast, to be successful, to be consistent, just to be the full package. It’s almost to be the driver that you dreamed of being when you’re watching at the side of the road when you’re younger, it’s to be that person that you envisioned.

“It’s almost like [I’m] two different people, and I know it sounds very weird, but when you get into a rally car and you get into rally week and you do all the preparation, even on the recce you’re toing and froing over ‘should I be doing this this way or the other way’ but as long as you get everything consistent and you do it the way you know it should be.

“But when you get into the car on a rally and start driving it’s just like being a different… you get into a different mental state I think so it feels like a different person. I think after a rally or before a rally you wonder ‘how do I do that, and how did I do that?’

“It’s a bit like imposter syndrome. You don’t know if you can do it, you don’t know you did it, you don’t feel like you are that person but you want to be.

“I’m always thinking ‘how would the top drivers be driving this section?’. That’s sort of what I have in my head. I’m probably still a long way off that, but I think that’s the mentality you need.”

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It really is fascinating stuff. These emotions are likely emotions all drivers climbing the ladder feel (who am I to validate whether that’s the case or not?) but Armstrong has a way of conveying them that few others can.

Even for us mere mortals who are anything but professional athletes or rally drivers, we can get a flavor of what it might actually feel like.

“Overall, Var was definitely the chance I needed from M-Sport Poland to redeem myself to myself and feel better about the year again, and I think if I hadn’t have done a rally before the winter break then I would’ve been sitting and thinking about the crash and all those sorts of things,” Armstrong adds.

“Whereas now I know I can still do it, I know it’s not going to have affected me too much and if there’s opportunities that come next year then I’m ready to take them rather than still doubting myself now.”

It can’t harm Armstrong’s confidence in his abilities that he and co-driver Ross Whittock bagged themselves a seriously impressive result, either.


As ever on these events Armstrong’s target was to be within two seconds per kilometer of the fastest Rally2 driver, which last weekend was new five-time French champion Yoann Bonato.

But to be fourth overall on an event as large as Var… that was some going.

“The thing for me is they’ve done that rally year-in year-out and the stages are the same, it’s my first time driving them,” Armstrong says. “I’m driving to my notes and they’re driving more from memory so to be anywhere close to the target is really, really good.

“Overall I was happy with the actual performance, we were driving pretty hard and that was all down to our pacenotes and the work me and Ross were doing with the engineer as well to get a good setup with the team.

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“Not every stage was good for us in terms of the characteristics – if something was smooth and wide we were going to lose time because the corners are longer and you’re off throttle more and you’re trying to keep your momentum up and it’s more difficult compared to Rally2, and then you have stages with more uphill sections so you’re losing more time on those. But from the very early stages we were top 10 and competing against some of the less fast Rally2 drivers and the guys in the Alpines.”

Unprompted, Armstrong then shares more of his deeper emotions.

“It was quite a special feeling to go and do a national rally, a big three-day rally in France, because I have memories of going to my local rallies when I was younger, local championship, and you have the top drivers.

“I was running as high as fourth or fifth on the road so I was one of the first guys people were seeing, and to be a foreign driver on the event, not a local, it’s a really cool experience for me – not because I want the fame, just I remember what it was like to watch those sorts of things when I was younger, like when Andreas Mikkelsen came and did the Irish Tarmac Championship, stuff like that.

“It’s cool now that I’m in that position, it gives me a buzz that I’m able to do it. When you get the result at the end it’s always worth it.”

Armstrong now knows he’s just as good as he ever was, and that his Czech calamity is now firmly behind him. What he doesn’t know is what he’ll be doing in a rally car next year.

They say you’re only as good as your last result though, so just as important as the mental boost Armstrong took from Var is the fact he’s reversed the momentum and conversation around him too.

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“I think there were a lot of locals in France that really thought it was a really great performance,” he says. “Working with my gravel crew, which was Willie Mavitty and Barry McNulty, they were really pleased with the performance and they thought it was my best ever.

“I don’t know if it was my best ever but for sure it was one of the best ones, and for sure it puts me back in a more positive sentiment with myself and probably the others in the rally world. The pace was pretty good, I can always keep improving now.

“I think you always learn something from those incidents as well. From that one it was more of a surface thing, so now my senses are more heightened around being focused on surface changes.

“The saying goes ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, it’s a bit morbid but for sure I think it’s true. I think I’m stronger now than I ever was.”