The following is a post from Scion Racing driver Matthew Johnson. Before the team headed out to the Oregon Trail Rally, he sat down with us to share his thoughts on joining the Rally xD team.
The Oregon Trail Rally is upon us once again, but this time I’m not carrying around a microphone; I’m back in the driver’s seat! Not only that, I’m in one of the most cherished seats in the entire Rally America championship driving for Scion Racing. My transition into the Scion Racing Rally xD team happened pretty suddenly around New Year’s 2014 when the team needed a driver, and we were able to come to an agreement.
Before I knew it, we were at Sno*Drift in January. Given the zero seat time I’d had in the car and the time I’ve been out of the seat, we were just aiming for a solid finish. To have driven straight to plan, taken few risks, and come away with a win at my first rally back was fantastic. I must say I wanted to do well, but even more so, I wanted the team to see they’d made a good choice.
I knew the team had a few years of rally experience, but I didn’t comprehend what that would mean for me as a driver. My entire career has been built around me handling everything including registration, licensing, re-prep between events, and even helping my volunteer crew change transmissions. I even had to rationalize the use of worn brakes and broken parts during rallies. Basically, I was at the center of every decision involved with my rally program.
Now, as part of the Scion Racing team, I’m often not even aware of half the planning for events! I’m a part of the system, filling a role that needs filling, and doing my job as a driver. I’m still wrapping my head around how awesome that is, and it’s still sinking in. The only people who really deeply get what I’m saying are those drivers who have been running their own racing teams and can’t imagine anything getting done if they weren’t doing it themselves.
It’s both incredible and scary at the same time really. On one hand if I disappear, the team doesn’t – it keeps going. On the other hand, this is a bona fide rally racing team and they chose ME to be in the driver’s seat. Given how rallying works around the world, I’m very proud to be in this position.
At the 100AW Rally, the reality of things began to set in, and I wasn’t as fast or as comfortable as I’d hoped to be. Suddenly, what felt like a good stage wasn’t quick enough to get the job done. My competitors Andrew Comrie-Picard and Will Hudson seemed to be flying! We had a few little issues throughout the event, but the team handled them perfectly and we managed to be there at the end for a 2nd place finish in the 2WD class. More importantly, we were able to keep the championship lead for the time being.
We all want to win. It feels like proper justification for all the work it takes to rally, though the big checks and supermodels are pretty cool too. Ah? Oh yeah, we don’t get those in rally. But after having to temper my love for racing the last several years, the original passion and energy I felt from the very beginning of my quest to be a top rally driver is coming back. My excitement and passion for the sport used to radiate out of me in uncontrollable ways in my early years driving, and I’m relieved to be rediscovering that original electrifying feeling for rallying.
After growing up a bit recently, I wondered if I was still as excited about driving like mad down dirt roads as I was when I was younger, back when I was racing Tanner Foust in 2005-06 in the Production GT class. Two rounds in with the Rally xD team and I can say for sure that I am. The energy is still there only now I’m able to use it to focus on preparing myself properly and making the best effort.
Now, it’s off to Oregon we go. We’ve managed a very successful testing day with the team, Phil and Ben along with TEIN support from Nakai all put in 16 hour days to help create a much better feeling for me in the driver’s seat. Phil and Ben made big changes to the car before the test and the car ran very smoothly all day. I was able to fit in a day of practicing notes on the High Desert Trails rally roads and feel more confident with my notes. We’ve come up a level on all fronts since 100AW, and are prepared for the increased competition coming from ACP’s new car, Will Orders in his Toyota, and from Ramana Lagemann driving a buddy’s M3.
If you’ve read this far I’d like to invite you to the annual ScionRacing Oregon Trail prerally reception, it’s Thursday night this year at REALLYBIGVIDEO Studios at 539 NW 10th Street in Portland, Oregon. The team’s going to be serving some light eats, drinks, and some of Portland’s finest doughnuts, and on behalf of the entire team, we’d love to see you there!