YOU would be hard pressed to find anyone who has had a better week than Fintona’s Aaron Johnston.
The highly regarded co-driver received a shock phone call around three weeks ago, which set in motion seven days to remember that included a trip to Spain, where he helped assist the Volkswagen World Rally Championship team in setting up their 2019 car alongside former WRC World Champion Petter Solberg, before standing on the third step of the podium in France alongside Dubai’s Mohamed Al Mutawaa at Rallye Des Cardabelles
“It’s been pretty crazy! I got a phone call about three weeks ago and Mr Solberg was on the other end to see what I was doing, so it was very surreal!,” explained the 23-year-old, who has his and Solberg’s mutual Abu Dhabi contacts to thank for the Norwegian’s call.
“At the start I thought it was a wind-up, but I soon realised it was something I was really looking forward to!
“It’s pretty cool to read pace-notes to a world champion! It’s not every day you get that opportunity and the feedback he gave me was very positive , so it was definitely a real confidence booster!”
During his four days in Spain, Aaron helped Solberg and the Volkswagen Motorsport team get the brand new Polo GTi R5, which will be used in the 2019 World Rally Championship, set up on both gravel and tarmac.
And although he has experienced life in an R5 rally car before, the Fintona man said the new Polo is a step up in class.
“It’s a sensational car, it’s definitely a contender in 2019,” he beamed.
“We worked very hard over the four days. We stepped into the car from base, but to get it where Petter’s personal driving preferences are, it took a bit of work.
“It was a fantastic experience – working with Petter was one thing, but to get to work with Volkswagen was another!
“The professionalism from everyone within our 16 man support team was amazing.It was an unforgettable experience and it was something I coud get used to.”
After a gruelling four days graft with the Volkswagen team and the 2003 World Rally champion and double World Rallycross title holder, Johnston made his way north to France to continue his Peugeot Sport 208 Rally Cup campaign alongside Al Mutawaa.
After a disappointing start to their season which saw an accident and mechanical issues blight the first two rounds, Johnston and his pilot have been gradually improving, finishing seventh, fifth and now third in the last three events.
And with one round remaining, they are still on course to achieve their pre-campaign target of fifth overall.
“We had a good run this weekend. We pushed hard over the six stages on Saturday and were setting top three times, but we lost a bit of time in the morning because the car suspension set up was too soft for the rough French terrain,” explained the Tyrone man.
“Our service crew sorted the problem out for the afternoon stages and we were lying fifth, come the overnight halt, but still in touch of the podium. The guy in front of us made a mistake early on Sunday morning, which resulted in a puncture and dropped two minutes, so we were up to fourth.
“We decided on maximum attack from then on and with Mohamed setting some very good stage times we were rewarded with third place on the podium,” he concluded.
Aaron would like to thank Fintona Autospares for being very understanding about his time away from work.