Four months ago, Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani were enjoying a weekend of mingling in the WRC service park. Sébastien Ogier was out there hammering the stages, reminding everyone who’s boss in the World Rally Championship as Rally México was in full flow.
But then it wasn’t. The decision to axe Sunday’s action from the itinerary was, in rallying terms, the beginning of the excruciating lockdown period. Competitors entered a new age of simracing and waiting for confirmation of when they could drive once more.
For Johnston and Kihurani, that Mexican weekend is still the last time they saw each other face-to-face. Living in Germany and the UK respectively, traveling for a socially-distanced meet-up isn’t even possible. Instead, a more than healthy dosage of WhatsApp messages and phone calls has kept the pair in touch and plotting their next move.
That next move became far clearer last week when the WRC unveiled its updated 2020 calendar. Estonia, Turkey, Germany, Sardinia and Japan will round off the season, with the potential for Ypres in Belgium and Croatia to join the party too. But for Johnston and Kihurani this represents the start, not the resumption, as they finally look to make their WRC debut in an R5 car.
That should’ve happened on Rally Portugal back in May, but instead Rally Estonia in September will have to do before assaults on the remaining three rallies in Europe. A two-day gravel test is being arranged so that Johnston can get his first taste of the Citroën C3 R5 on gravel outside of a competitive environment.
Johnston tells DirtFish: “The intention when we originally designed our schedule was we wanted to try and have about three weeks break in between each rally to properly prepare for and integrate the learning from each event.
“Last year, one of the critiques that we had for ourselves is that we did too much, and that I didn’t have the capacity at this point in my career to learn as much as I could have done from each weekend.”
“So we want to do as much as we can but don’t want to fall into the same trap as last year by cramming too much into too short a period of time. Especially since we’re jumping up to the R5 car and it’s so much more expensive, we need to really make every event count in a more concerted and focused way. The good news is that the events are likely to all be shorter which means they are going to be cheaper to run.”
Although that represents a shorter schedule than was originally planned, it still gives the pair a good platform to prove themselves and increase their four-wheel-drive pace and knowledge.
Kihurani admits he is pining to head for Ypres, so hopes it is successfully inducted into the WRC schedule.
“I’ve done it twice and spectated it twice and just love the atmosphere,” he says. “The roads are really cool and I love the area so I’m definitely keen to go there.”
But even if it’s not, it could be chucked into Johnston and Kihurani’s schedule.
“I’m not so sure it will be in the WRC this year or if it has a future as a repeating WRC round, but it’s always going to be a big event that could end up being in our calendar at some point in the future anyway, so I think it’s still very much worth doing.”
Any thoughts Sean?
“I would love to do Ypres,” he offers. “I’m extremely stoked to see it’s one of the possibilities because then it makes even more sense for us to do. I hope we get to do it this year.”
Saintéloc rally manager Vincent Ducher may or may not be reading this. But if you are, Vincent, you’ve been told. Kihurani has already booked a house in the center of Ypres. You can expect a phone call fairly soon…