Steven Johnson will take to the wheel of an Erebus Motorsport Mercedes V8 Supercar for the first time today as part of a multi-team test at Queensland Raceway.
Erebus is being joined by fellow V8 Supercars Championship entrants Red Bull Racing Australia, Tekno Autosports and Dick Johnson Racing at the Ipswich venue, while Victorian-based teams Brad Jones Racing and Ford Performance Racing will be undertaking their own test programs at Winton.
Johnson visited Erebus’ headquarters on Friday and Monday in preparation for the test, which will mark his first drive of a non-Dick Johnson Racing V8 Supercar since his stint behind the wheel of an Alcair Racing Commodore in 1995.
Today’s test will also be the 38-year-old’s first proper hit-out in a Car of the Future specification machine, having completed only a short shakedown of DJR’s first 2013 chassis at Norwell in February.
Unlike fellow Erebus co-drivers Craig Baird and Andrew Thompson, Johnson missed out on the recent co-driver practice sessions in Townsville, but says he’ll be completing Friday duties in the E63 at the upcoming Ipswich 300 and Winton events prior to the Sandown 500.
“We’ll definitely run the next two, there was just a bit of confusion between V8s and Erebus about whether, as a rookie, Maro could run in that session (Practice 0) in Townsville,” Johnson told Speedcafe.com.
“When they were told he couldn’t, I hadn’t done a seat fit or anything (so it was too late to drive). It would have been nice to run up there but it was no big deal.
“The next two race meetings I’ll be spending 100 percent of my time with Erebus. Obviously Ipswich is a home event but for Winton I’ll be flying and staying with them, really just trying to get to see how they work and build relationships.”
Despite his inexperience with the AMG engine and 2013 rule package, Johnson isn’t anticipating that it’ll take long to adapt to the Erebus cars.
“At the start of the year people were saying that they (the COTFs) are very different but from the co-drivers I’ve talked to it should feel pretty familiar within about five laps,” he said.
“I expect that won’t wallow around quite as much with the 18-inch tyre and, from what people say, they’re a bit more flighty in the back, but I don’t think that the style will be much different.
“We’ll just get in and help out with the program, working on the areas that Erebus want to work on.
“It would be great if we can make some gains to help leap Maro forward between now and Sandown. That’s a big part of what I’m here for.”
Today’s test will allow Johnson and Engel to refine the #9 SP Tools entry’s cabin such that it suits both drivers.
Johnson expects that the car’s safety-minded ‘E-Cell’ seat will prove a challenge when it comes to driver change practice.
“My legs are a little bit bent compared to what I’m used to, but if we need to modify that we’ll deal with it,” he said of his driving position following Friday’s seat fitting.
“The seat is going to be a bit tricky to get in and out of but they’re doing a few things ergonomically to make that easier. I think come the endurance races we shouldn’t be too bad.”
Johnson has 205 V8 Supercars Championship event and 415 race starts to his name, recording three victories and two pole positions.
Engel, in his rookie V8 Supercars season after stints in British Formula 3 and the DTM, sits 28th in the 2013 points standings after 21 races.