We sat down with Stephen Johansen, a professional racing driver, to ask him a few questions about how he got in to racing, the challenges he’s faced along the way, and for some advice for budding drivers who want to try their hand in the professional circuit.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue driving professionally?
I had always been successful on corporate driving and karting events, but it was when I entered a competition in 2007 called the Vauxhall VXR Driver of the Year – where I got to the final and finished 5th out of over three thousand people – that I got to thinking that I should give this a go professionally.
What was the first lesson you learned when you started driving professionally?
That you need to pick the right fights. In racing, you don’t want to damage your car early and then have to carry damage otherwise you’ll lose time throughout the length of the race.
How do you prepare yourself before a race?
The waiting around on a race day is what builds up your nerves. I try to stay calm, and focussed, and try to zone out and plan what I will do from the beginning of the race from my starting position.
We imagine your response times have to been extremely high, how do you build up that quick reaction skill?
Through my other role as an ARDS (Association of Racing Drivers School) Instructor where I work with drivers to enable them to go faster. This keeps me thinking about what does, and does not, work within a car based upon the feel from the passenger seat.
What’s the most exciting race you participated in, and why was it so memorable?
The most exciting race was when I competed in the 25hr Funcup Endurance event in 2017 at Spa Francorchamps. That’s because we finished first and I got to finally stand on the top step of the podium after trying for 6 years. In previous years I had finished in 2nd and 3rd so to finally drive over the finish line to take the checkered flag to get a 1st place felt so sweet.
Have you had any scary moments in your racing career?
Yes of course, one was actually at Spa Francorchamps when coming through the compression at the bottom of Eau Rouge on full throttle when my rear suspension collapsed. If there hadn’t been tarmac run off areas in place, that all current F1 circuits demand, then I wouldn’t have been able to control the car and slow it down to prevent it hitting the barriers. This meant that we had minimal damage and managed to get the car fixed quickly and back out in the race.
Tell us more about your car, what’s the spec?
My 2016/2017 race car was a Volkswagen Polo R that was specifically built to race in the VW Racing Cup. The series is based on a power-to-weight ratio, so it’s set at 260BHP. That could quite easily be increased, but we would need to add weight to the car. The theory is that, the lighter the car is, it makes it easier to stop, accelerate and turn from the mass. The car runs the wide body lit from the WRC car so that we can run larger wheels and run a wider track.
If you could offer any advice to someone who wants to get in to racing, what would you say?
When I was thinking about starting racing I went to a few race events where you could talk to a few competitors. I also went to the Autosport show to learn about different series so that I could get into racing in a series that was right for me.