While Steven Johnson has driven with manyteammates and worked with young drivers, co-driving with Maro Engel will be an interesting scenario, given the #9 SP Tools driver's background. Though Engel has rookie status in V8Supercars, the German is an experienced and accomplished racer.
Johnson is looking forward to working withthe Erebus Motorsport Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG driver when they pair up for theEndurance Cup later this year.
Johnson said he would use some of theexperienced he’s gained working with rookie Chaz Mostert after his swiftcall-up to the main game this this year – and feels his Erebus co-driver hasbeen unfairly judged in 2013.
“Maro’s a very accomplished race driver inhis own right,” Johnson said yesterday, once their enduro pairing was announced.
“A lot of people have been quite harsh onMaro.
“He hasn’t had the best run this year butif you go through the record books and look at the best drivers – theJamie Whincups, Craig Lowndes’ and even Shane van Gisbergens – they weren’t onthe pace at the start either.
“Jamie Whincup is a prime example– after a year Garry Rogers dumped him and he was on the sidelines for ayear.
“People forget that – and a lot ofpeople forget Maro is accomplished and is still looked upon highly atMercedes-Benz in Germany.”
Johnson felt Engel’s results alsodemonstrated the difficulties of mastering a V8 Supercar.
“It just proves our cars are very hard todrive,” he said.
“If you give Maro a chance, he’ll be upthere with the best of them.”
Another comparison Johnson found fair wasGarry Rogers Motorsport’s French recruit Alex Premat, who began in the serieslast year and also had trouble coming to grips with the V8 Supercar. At the endof 2012 there was speculation Premat would not have a seat this yearafter Rogers pulled him out of the car at the Surfers Paradise event. Buthe’s remained behind the wheel of a GRM Commodore and has achieved reasonableresults this year, qualifying and finishing several times in the top 10 (click here to see Premat's season progress).
“Alex Premat last year caused a lot ofgrief for a lot of people – not just his team, but others – and this year ishis second year into it and he’s performed well.
“I think the only difference between Maroand Alex is, Alex jumped into a car that was already sorted out and fast. Marohas a brand new car, a brand new team, brand new make of car, and they aredeveloping brand new engines.
“He’s really had the harshest debut of anybody,because of his situation. Everything underneath him is brand new, and he has todevelop the car not knowing what the old V8 Supercar was like.”
Johnson believes Bathurst will be tough forthe 27-year old German, who wasn’t even racing go karts when Johnson first raced atMount Panorama.
“He was saying to me the other day, when Ifirst raced at Bathurst in 1994 he wasn’t even in karts then – he raced in1995.
“He’s still a young guy, but a veryexperienced young guy.
“I guess working with him is similar toworking with Chaz, but having said that – it’s not that I treat himdifferently, but there’s a different aspect to it because I believe I’ll beable to learn a lot from him, and him from me.
“Bathurst will be tough for him, but he’llpick it up pretty quick and in the races he’ll be right there. We plan to gethim ready for the endurance races and do the best job we can, and get the bestresult we can.”
Johnson agreed co-driver time was fairlylimited this year, and he won’t be in the car for the allowed co-driver portion of Practice inTownsville, as Engel will take that opportunity to learn the street circuit.
Johnson was unsure of the testing scheduleat his time of comment, but believed he would be in the car after Darwin andhoped he’d get some time in the co-driver part of Practice at QueenslandRaceway as Engel has completed laps there before (it’s Erebus MotorsportV8’s test track).
“It is limited,” Johnson said of theallocated co-driver time. “But that’s what we’ve come about within V8 Supercarsto cut costs and we have to make sure the co-driver side of things doesn’t suffer.
“You’ve got to make the most of what you’vegot – I’m pretty confident, I’ve been racing these types of cars longenough to get in, do a day and be back into the groove of it.”
He estimated he’d get the chance to spendaround three days behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz AMG prior to theSandown 500 in September.