Watching onboards of rallying stages is just a way of life for several World Rally Championship crews. It’s educational – vital even – as they ramp up their preparation for an upcoming event.
The ritual is even more important for a driver heading to the event for the first time. That was Sean Johnston last week as he readied himself for the final World Rally Championship event of his season: Rally Spain.
But in this unfamiliarity came comfort. Yes, Spain will be Johnston’s first-ever ‘pure’ asphalt rally in a Citroën C3 Rally2 – after a sodden Rally Hungary in the European Rally Championship two years ago and the Monte Carlo Rally earlier in 2021 – but the Spanish roads are the closest the WRC comes to a racetrack.
And don’t forget, Johnston’s first foray into real-life motorsport was on the circuits as a sports car driver.
When I'm looking at these roads it's almost like there's a new Nürburgring Nordschleife everywhere you goSean Johnston
“When I’m looking at these roads it’s almost like there’s a new Nürburgring Nordschleife everywhere you go, which I obviously am really, really excited for,” he tells DirtFish.
“Having a lot of the double-width roads means that there’s a bit more flexibility and openness in terms of line choices, and it’s been fun to watch a lot of different onboards and see a lot of guys taking different lines.
“There’s a lot of lines I would take and there’s maybe some things I’ll think about doing differently, and I’m asking myself the question when I’m watching all the onboards: are there any rally specific lines I need to start integrating? Are there things I’m bringing from sportscar racing that might actually not be helpful?
“It’s going to be an interesting challenge but the stages look absolutely gorgeous, so I can’t wait to get out there.”
Johnston and co-driver Alex Kihurani head to Spain’s northeast coast off the back of their first rally finish (on the notorious Acropolis) in six months.
There, the aim was just to finish but the target is a little more ambitious in Spain.
“I think we want to achieve a bit more this time, although we do want to keep consistently building on finishes for sure,” Kihurani says.
“With Spain this year being a full Tarmac event and being a little wider and not as crazy as Monte Carlo or what we experienced in Hungary – at least it shouldn’t be – I imagine we’re still going to be able to drive quite flat out and I think the times will be really, really close together on every stage.
We're the only two Americans over here trying to do this crazy thingSean Johnston
“We’ll try to be clean, quick and consistent throughout and get the best result we can see to round out our WRC season.”
Plans will then be afoot for the upcoming 2022 WRC season, but one thing is for sure: Johnston and Kihurani won’t be getting involved in the recent co-driver merry-go-round.
“We’re the only two Americans over here trying to do this crazy thing,” says Johnston, proudly.
“I feel we are both very much sharing and chasing after the same dream, so we’re both highly motivated and putting in a lot of energy and effort and we’re also just good friends and get along well in the car. I couldn’t imagine doing it with anybody else.”
Kihurani feels the same: “Seeing Sean as a successful American driver in the WRC matters to me as much as my own success, so it would feel a little bit strange jumping around to just do something myself.”
This weekend, the pair will face stiff competition as always in WRC2 including Mads Østberg, Jari Huttunen and Teemu Suninen.