In the first part of an exclusive interview with The Checkered Flag, Junior WRC driver and former eSports WRC champion Jon Armstrong discusses his debut in the class back on Rally Sweden.
Armstrong’s maiden appearance in the category ended in disaster when he crashed out at high speed on just the third stage into the rally, but the young Northern Irishman says he’s well on the way to full recovery following the crash.
“After it happened, I was feeling quite sore and had some muscle pain in my back which still gives me some trouble now,” said Armstrong. “But I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of a real rally car again, although I’m not sure if that will be in the JWRC or this year in general.”
“It was a lot of fun to be back in the paddock and I was really enjoying it, but I think we made a big mistake of not having a proper pre event test, which meant I had to learn the car and the setup on the event itself.”
Unusually, the what was traditional winter event actually had a shortage of snow for it’s 2020 running and Armstrong admitted it affected his preparation. He added: “The lack of snow was playing on everyone’s minds. There was no guarantee the event would go ahead at all, so that was a logistical nightmare and it was also difficult to be in the right frame of mind and stay focused.”
“When it did go ahead with the smaller itinerary, I think it maybe helped me a bit. I don’t have a huge amount of snow experience outside of Rally Liepaja back in 2015, so it wasn’t easy trying to get used to those conditions again. With the mixture of snow, ice and gravel it felt a bit like Monte Carlo!”
Although he has only returned to the WRC paddock this season, Armstrong is no stranger when it comes to being behind the wheel of a rally car, after competing in a range of machinery over the last few years around Europe.
He went on to discuss how he prepared ahead of his JWRC debut: “I drove the car for the first time on a short tarmac test in December in the UK but apart from that, I did not get any practice before round one got underway which was a big mistake, but that is the risk you take when you don’t have big budgets.”
“I tried to prepare as best as I could with simulators and so on before the event, but no doubt I was rusty and I feel like if I’m going to continue at this level, I need to be out more often behind the wheel of a real car.”
The 2018 eSports WRC winner continued: “Our pace was getting better and better and on the stage we crashed, the split times showed we had the same pace as the leader and shows what could have been for us.”
“An R2 isn’t particularly fun to drive on loose surfaces with the wrong setup and driving style! But once you figure out how to drive it with the best setup though, it can be a hugely rewarding experience.”
Former WRC2 driver Armstrong also revealed to TCF that his Junior programme wasn’t initially what he was looking at for 2020: “We were trying to get an R5 program sorted during the winter, but after that didn’t come together, the JWRC looked like a good way to reignite my rallying career.”
“After having something initially arranged for a campaign this year, that plan fell apart in December which was truly heart breaking to be honest, but I made the decision to not give up hope and found some budget elsewhere to compete in Sweden.”
“It included quite a lot of my own money and we planned to do the first two rounds and see how the championship was going, but obviously we made the error in Sweden and it was always going to be hard to financially recover from that for the rest of the year.”
He also commented when looking into the rest of the 2020 season following the coronavirus pandemic: “Obviously, businesses and backers are more careful with their budgets now after these times of lockdown which have been negative for the economy as a whole.”
“We’ll have to see what happens with the championship over the next few months and see what we can do on the budget side. I want to be fighting for victories on every round if I can be there!”
Stay tuned for the second part of the in-depth interview with Armstrong next week, where he discusses his role with Codemasters after helping develop DiRT Rally 2.0.