STRANGE BUT TRUE: JOHNSON’S FORMULA HOLDEN ONE-OFF

Steven Johnson made a one-off appearance in Formula Holden in 1996. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

WHILE he’s much better known for racing Ford-badged V8 Supercars and Touring Car Masters machinery, Steven Johnson has campaigned a diverse array of cars over the course of his career.

Along with the Datsun 1600 Sports Sedan in which he began his racing journey, drives in Holden and Mercedes V8 Supercars, a Chevrolet Camaro TransAm car, Porsche Carrera Cup car, Audi R8 LMS GT car, BMW Super Tourer and his son Jett’s Hyundai Excel also appear on Johnson’s sedan racing CV.

However, long forgotten among the list of cars he’s raced is a Reynard 90D open-wheeler!

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In 1996 a then 21-year-old Johnson joined the Formula Holden field for a one-off appearance in the Australian Drivers’ Championship, taking part in the round held at Calder Park’s Australian Touring Car Championship meeting.

“It was just about trying to broaden my driving experience in different cars, rather than being an expert in one car – sort of like what Shane van Gisbergen does now,” Johnson recalled to V8 Sleuth.

“I never did Formula Ford so it was really my first open-wheeler race apart from go-karting.

“I would’ve loved to have driven the car at Phillip Island or somewhere like that, because Calder Park’s not really a track where you can really utilise the aerodynamics and downforce of those cars, but it was pretty cool to do.”

Note how much of Johnson’s helmet covers up the air intake. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

A deal was done with open-wheel stalwart and long-time Ralt distributor Graham Watson for Johnson to join a field headlined by then-reigning two-time Formula Holden champion Paul Stokell and reigning Formula Ford champion Jason Bright.

Johnson qualified the Reynard a respectable ninth and 10th for the two races despite his inexperience and his tall frame making for a tight fit in the Reynard’s cockpit.

“I only just fit in it – I was still too tall!” Johnson said.

“My head was blocking the air intake a little bit, so down the straight I’d have to tilt my head to the side.”

Unfortunately, Johnson’s open-wheel cameo proved frustratingly brief.

Johnson and the marshals push the Reynard away after crashing out on oil in Race 1. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

His first race ended on the opening lap after crashing on a trail of oil coming onto the back straight, then made it only two laps into the second race before the front suspension broke and forced him out.

The two starts proved the only open-wheel outings of Johnson’s career. With his height proving a restrictive factor, he focused his career on sedans from that point on.

“I’m probably a normal size for a human but an abnormal size for a race driver,” Johnson said.

“If I was a normal-sized race driver I would probably have pursued a career in something like that, but it just wasn’t feasible.”

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Will Dale is V8 Sleuth's Head of Content - Digital. He began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.