Northern Ireland’s Aaron Johnston is ready to make his Rally Monte Carlo debut co-driving for teen sensation, Oliver Solberg. The pair have been busy completing two separate pre-event tests in their Volkswagen Polo R5 in preparation for the World Rally Championship opener.
“Oliver has great experience on snow and ice,” explained Johnston. “But that’s all been on gravel-based roads so this is the first time with a tarmac base.
“It was a new experience and we had a lot to learn in the car. We’ve done some small tarmac tests previously but nothing as extensive as three full days.
“Getting the car set up for dry and wet tarmac, along with the tricky snow and ice conditions for Monte Carlo was good, and we learned a lot moving forward.
“It’s very positive and we feel quite at home in the car now heading into the four days of competition in Monte Carlo.”
Johnston and Solberg made their WRC debut on Rally GB last October after winning both the FIA Baltic Rally and Latvian Federation trophies during the year. Given the youth inside the car it was a remarkable achievement and brought success to the relatively new Polo R5.
“I think if anybody had said to me at the beginning of last year that we would achieve what we did, I’d have laughed at them.
“We took the ERC win in Liepaja – it was our first European Championship event and our first event on gravel with the Polo R5.
“It was just a dream weekend from start to finish, to be fighting with the likes of [Aleksey] Lukyanuk.
“I grew up watching him on the TV and YouTube and he’s just crazy, so to be even faster than him was quite a nice feeling.”
Johnston has had the privilege of being one of the very first people to compete in Volkswagen’s Polo R5 and he’s helped it become a proven package in the hands of Solberg.
“The Polo is an exceptional car. It was brand new when we stepped into it last October, so we did a lot of the development and sorted some of the smaller technical issues out ourselves. We grew with the car.
“It has to be one of the best, if not the best R5 car available at the minute. I think stage times have shown that.
“It’s a lovely car and I hope we see more of them in Ireland and from what I’ve heard there are a few coming over.”
For now, Johnston and Solberg’s focus is fixed on having a successful Rally Monte Carlo by getting to the finish, having gained as much experience as possible.
“Monte Carlo is what I’ve always wanted to do since I started this eight years ago.
“To be sitting in an R5 car with a Solberg in Casino Square later this week is quite surreal. We will give it our best.”
Photo: Muller Yohan Photosport