The deer hunter
- Rainer Nyberg
- 8W October 1999 issue
- Mauro Baldi - Italian refinement better suited to sportscars, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Onyx/Monteverdi - Recipe on how to destroy a fledgling team, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Ayrton Senna - A carefully planned agenda to inspiration, by Mattijs Diepraam
1980 Argentine GP (practice)
As with many aspiring racing talents Stefan's career was much helped by the fact that his father was a racing driver. Roland Johansson was mainly racing saloons such as Ford Cortinas but also drove a single-seater Formula Vee up to 1972. At the time Stefan was basically brought up in racing paddocks, so it was a natural thing for him to start racing himself.
His father had bought him his first kart in 1965 and Stefan began exploiting his talents in it until he reached the competition age of 12. He then successfully raced karts for seven straight seasons before graduating to Formula Ford for the 1975 season. His karting career brought him 3rd overall in the Swedish championship in 1971 and 1972. He bettered that by become runner-up in 1973 and 1974. 1973 brought him the overall win in the regional Nordic (combined Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish) championship as well, while he finished 6th in the 1973 World Karting Championship. A single year in Formula Fords followed before he took the step to F3. So, 1976 saw him compete in the unofficial Swedish F3 championship promoted by SSK (Stockholm Sportscar Club) in a Toyota-powered GRD. He won his first race in the car and won five more of them as the year went on.
His F3 career then took subsequent steps: in 1977, having started off in a Modus he later wrote off in the Nürburgring Euro round, he raced an Argo JM11 in the Swedish championship, taking it to Europe for 1978. The following season he decided to concentrate on the inaugural British F3 championship, sharing his efforts between a Chevron B47 and March 793 for Derek McMahon Racing. His championship hopes were lost in the uncompetitive Chevron during the early part of the season and he ultimately finished fourth.
His late-season results were an eye-opener for F2 outfits, so at Donington Park he made his category debut in a works March-BMW 792. He was highly impressive until his engine failed. For 1980 he started out as the clear British F3 title favourite as he signed up with Ron Dennis' Project 4 team, which had led Chico Serra to the 1979 championship. The title wasn't just dropped at his feet, however. A win in the first race was followed by poor mid-season form in the March 803. It was not until it was replaced by a Ralt RT3 that his championship hopes became alive again. Stefan finally did clinch the championship after a mighty effort which saw him win the final four races.
By then, he'd already been entered in a GP car as his late-season form in 1979 had not only led to an unexpected F2 opportunity but also singled him out as an F1 prospect. So after a late call Stefan was entered in the Argentine and Brazilian rounds of the 1980 GP season. It didn't lead to his actual race debut as the cash-strapped Shadow team was now in steep decline. Stefan duly struggled in the underdeveloped and slow DN11. Really thrown in at the deep end he didn't have much of a chance and failed to qualify for both events.
On Thursday, January 11, 1980 Stefan got strapped in for the first time for the Argentine GP's free practice session. Shadow team manager Bert Baldwin gave these orders: "Take it easy for the first 20 laps, you have to run-in the gearbox and learn the circuit. I will not tolerate any wild driving." Baldwin had called Stefan only three days earlier and told him that if he could bring some cash he would be a GP driver. Stefan grabbed the opportunity and got onto the first flight to Buenos Aires. He did not have any money yet and it took until Wednesday before a deal could be worked out. Stefan and his father Roland managed to get some support from the Argentine local division of Swedish petroleum gas company AGA. Stefan complained after the first session: "One corner is flat out in 5th gear and I feel like my head is going to come off! The incredible G-forces and the heavy steering were really surprising for me."
First free practice on Friday started badly. The tarmac was starting to break up in some of the corners and Stefan lost the car on one of the corners, resulting in a slight off. He damaged the left upright and the day was over for him. Alan Jones was nine seconds quicker but Stefan was unfazed. Saturday was his last chance to qualify. The track surface had become even worse and after qualifying few drivers bettered their Friday times. So Stefan asked Bert : "Where am I going to find six seconds?" His Friday time was 1.57.12 and after a few laps his time started to come down: 1.53.50, 1.52.30… there was lots of traffic but Stefan constantly improved his lap time: 1.52.10, 1.51.90. Bert called in Stefan for a quick tyre change and then the times went down again: 1.51.85, 1.51.72 and finally 1.51.57. That was still over two seconds from the last qualifying spot that went to Emerson Fittipaldi with 1.49.42.
When Stefan entered the pits he sat quietly in the car for some time before Baldwin approached him with the time sheet. "Kid, don't be upset," the team manager said. "Remember that you were six seconds behind this morning and now it's only two." But that's not what a racing driver wants to hear. And so Stefan's typical racing-driver reply was: "Damn! I was just starting to get the car as I wanted it to be. If I had got 10 more laps I would have made it." He ran 64 laps in total during the weekend. His slightly more experienced team mate David Kennedy got down to 1.50.25 but his time did not get him onto the grid either.
Fortunately, Johansson's 1980 season gathered pace after the disappointments with the Shadow DN11 and the March 803, his career salvaged by that all-important British F3 title. For 1981 Stefan signed for Alan Docking for a proper try at Formula 2 in a semi-works Lola T850 (see our Londono story). Stefan was rewarded with two wins and finished 4th in the championship, leading to a post-season test in a March 811.
For 1982 Stefan moved to the new crack Spirit equipe. With continuing Marlboro sponsorship and the powerful Honda V6 engine behind his back Stefan was expected to shine but while generally being the fastest driver out there and collecting lots of poles he rarely got to see the chequered flag. Only one podium was gained and Stefan finished a lowly 8th in the final classification. His team mate Thierry Boutsen was infinitely more successful as the Belgian was able to score three wins and finish third in the championship.
Spirit now had put their sights on F1 after testing a 1.5-litre turbo version of the Honda V6 F2 engine. Both Stefan and Thierry Boutsen tested the F2-based muletta during the winter of 1982/83 and Stefan was chosen to debut the modified F2 car in the 1983 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. Stefan and Spirit's first GP start came at the British GP in the 201C. At the same time, Stefan shared a Marlboro-backed Group C Porsche 956 with Bob Wollek.
For 1984 Honda withdrew their support and took their engines to Frank Williams. Stefan lost his seat and became one of the first pioneers to go to Japan and race in the national F2 series while continuing in a Joest Porsche 956, now liveried in New Man colours. He started the year by winning the Sebring 12-hour race in an ancient IMSA Porsche 935, taking the last international win for a 935.
Then came Martin Brundle's Dallas crash: finally Stefan got the F1 break he'd waited for. From now on, Johansson would become an F1 regular. After Ayrton Senna got suspended for signing with Lotus Stefan finished off the season in the Toleman TG184. His impressive drive to fourth at Monza was noted by many team principals, including one Enzo Ferrari. For 1985 Stefan was originally retained by Toleman but the team was without a tyre contract and both Johansson and John Watson were left in limbo. The Swede was snapped up by Ken Tyrrell and raced the only normally-aspirated Tyrrell 012 in Brazil before another famous name messed up and got into a fight with his team management: the enigmatic René Arnoux was unceremoniously sacked by Ferrari, leaving another hole which Johansson graciously filled.
With Stefan's excellent Monza drive still firmly in Il Commendatore's memory and his Marlboro connections also helping out, thank you very much, Johansson suddenly found himself sitting in a Ferrari!
Ultimately, looking at his record as a number two for Ferrari and McLaren, one might come to the conclusion he should have made more out of it. Still, he wasn't very lucky at times. For instance, Stefan actually should have won his first Ferrari drive at Imola where he led until he ran out of fuel in the dying moments of the race. Two second places and a front-row starting position at the Nürburgring where his race was spoiled after team mate Alboreto punctured Stefan's right rear were his best results for 1985, a year in which Ferrari was seen losing much of its early-season pace, in the end allowing Alain Prost to take his first title quite comfortably. The 1986 season turned out to be a "lemon" season for Johansson, with only a few podium places picked up for his efforts. It was clearly not enough and Ferrari was eager to sign on young Benetton hotshoe Gerhard Berger anyway. Stefan still finished 5th in the championship, a performance he would not better.
Although his prospects looked wary, his old boss Ron Dennis had a surprise in store for him: he would be driving the No.2 McLaren in 1987, replacing Keke Rosberg. Switching from a struggling Ferrari team to the World Champion's outfit seemed to be a wise career move but eventually TAG-Porsche slowed down their engine development and the MP4/3 lost pace as the year went. To top that, he had the fright of his life in Austria when he hit a crossing deer head-on. The deer and the MP4/3 didn't survive the brush, while Stefan was nearly pushing up the daisies as well. Again, Johansson notched up several podiums but he was very much the back-up driver to Alain Prost.
So, for 1988, the reverse of 1984 was about to happen: the man who had created Stefan's deciding career opportunity by falling out with Peter Collins of Toleman, was now coming back to take his seat with a team that was about to dominate the 1988 season. Such is life: just a few years earlier he had Senna and Arnoux to thank for a meteoric rise to top-level GP racing, now first Gerhard Berger and then Senna bumped him from center stage.
This time, Johansson's career had genuinely hit the rocks. Trying to salvage what he could Stefan even severed his ties with Marlboro to sign for the Gitanes-backed Ligier team. The new JS31 looked sensational on paper but was a dog on the tracks. Although it went fast on the straights, it suffered from poor torsional rigidity, resulting in abysmal cornering abilities. Both team mate Arnoux (yes, him again) and Stefan realized early-on that 1988 would become a long enduring pain-in-the-neck. Stefan endured six DNQs and scored no results whatsoever. With one foot out of F1 he had more success driving Group C cars for Sauber when he managed to win the Spa 1000kms.
For 1989 Johansson returned to the Marlboro fold when he was signed as the experienced campaigner planned to lead Mike Earle's new Moneytron-backed Onyx GP team. A rejuvenated Johansson enjoyed racing the simple, straightforward Cosworth-powered ORE-1. He was often found mixing it with the big boys and eventually scored an amazing third at Estoril. For 1990 it all went wrong, however. After Onyx lost their sponsorship Johansson fell out with new Swiss team owner Peter Monteverdi and left after two races. He was out of an F1 job but at least he wasn't around to experience Monteverdi's graceless downfall. Instead, he was picked up by Mazda for their Le Mans effort.
For 1991 Stefan attempted a comeback with the little French AGS team but after only two races he was dropped. Once again subbing Stefan then replaced the hurt Alex Caffi at Footwork. He was entered in the hopelessly underpowered and heavy Porsche V12 FA12 for four races and the Canadian GP was to become Johansson's 79th and final GP start. For the rest of the year Stefan continued to test for McLaren, developing their semi-auto transmission.
So, Stefan's GP career never blossomed into what might have been after the early promise. Having driven for three of the Big Four, if you count Toleman as the Benetton team, he never got onto the top step of an F1 podium. What followed was a generally undistinguished career in Indycars and sportscars, with one exceptional highlight: taking the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours for Joest Racing in the TWR-built Porsche WSC95, co-driven by Tom Kristensen and former Ferrari team mate Michele Alboreto. In 2001 he followed that up with a rather hollow European Le Mans Series title, in his all-conquering Audi R8.
His Indy career with the Bettenhausen team was again promise unfulfilled, as he is one of the few ex-GP drivers not to have scored a win in CART, although he did finish a fine third on his debut at Detroit in 1992, driving a year-old Penske-Chevrolet PC20.
As a team owner, however, Stefan has found success quite early on, with Fredrik Larsson the 1997 Indy Lights top surprise and Guy Smith winning at Portland in the team's second year. In 1999 Indianapolis-based Johansson Motorsports fielded ex-British F3 racer Ben Collins and promising young Kiwi Scott Dixon, the 1998 Formula Holden champion and a 1999 winner at Nazareth. It turned out to be Dixon's first step into the bright lights of fame he is used to now.
As a footnote we can also mention that Stefan's younger sister Åsa Johansson successfully raced Lancia A112s in a ladies-only series in Sweden during the mid 1980s. Away from motorracing Stefan enjoys alpine-skiing and his art collection.
Reader's Why by Geza Sury
In 1980 Team Shadow was in deep-deep trouble. They lost almost all their sponsors (Samson Shag sponsorship went to team ATS with Jan Lammers) and their "star" driver Elio de Angelis left to join Lotus. The days of the victory by Alan Jones and their 3 pole positions by Jean-Pierre Jarier had long gone and they had to fight just to survive. And usually in that stage of a team's life it gives a chance to up-and-coming new drivers. (Just like Lotus did to Mika Salo in the end of 1994.)
So Shadow had chosen 23 year-old Stefan Johansson to do the driving job alongside another newcomer called David Kennedy. The new car, the DN11 with Ford-Cosworth power was also available, but it was hardly any better than the DN9, with which they scored only 3 points the previous year. The DN11 was the first 'ground effect' car from Shadow designed by John Gentry, Vic Morris and R. Owen. At the first race of the season in Argentina both Johansson (DN11-2) and Kennedy (DN11-1) had failed to qualify. It was very much the same case two weeks later in Brazil. Disappointed Johansson was replaced by Geoff Lees, who miraculously qualified for the South African GP, but only after Alain Prost was out due to a practice accident. Lees drove through the race and finished 13th and last, a massive 8 laps behind the winner! For Kennedy it was DNQ time again.
As it later turned out, it was Shadow's last F1 race. They never managed to get a car onto a grid once again. (Although both Kennedy and Lees started in the non-championship Spanish GP.) Lees debuted the new DN12 in Belgium, but it didn't help. After France, they decided to ring down the curtain.
Meanwhile the team was sold to Hong Kong multimillionaire Teddy Yip, who made that decision. For 1981, Yip entered the DN12-3 for a non-championship F1 race in South Africa as the Theodore TR2, this was the last time we saw a Shadow car in an F1 event.
Back to Johansson. The poor Swede had to wait 3 years to get back into F1. After his short trip into Grand Prix racing he went back to British F3 and won the Championship! The next two years he spent in F2 winning two races. In 1982 he drove for the Spirit-Honda team which graduated to the Grand Prix scene in the middle of 1983. So the Swede had become a proper GP driver. After Williams snapped the Honda engines from Spirit, Johansson was without a drive once again. He was in and out of F1 for a couple of seasons until a telephone call came from Ferrari.
According to him, hearing the news that the Great Enzo Ferrari wanted to recruit him (to replace Rene Arnoux) made him so surprised, that the receiver slipped out of his hands. After a fuel-economy race at the 1985 Imola GP, he was leading but he also ran out of spirit amongst others. He might have won at Montreal, but team orders kept him behind team-mate Michele Alboreto. In 1986 Ferrari had a miserable year and at the end of it the team refused to renew Johansson's contract.
Fortunately there was a place available at McLaren. Thanks to his former team boss at Project Four, Ron Dennis, he was the guy who got it. That year Stefan played second fiddle to Alain Prost and never came close to win a GP. Practising for the Austrian GP, he hit a large deer running across the track. Stefan swerved not to hit the unfortunate animal, but could not. He ran into it, then still travelling more than 200 kilometres per hour he hit the barrier. Johansson survived the accident more or less uninjured. "I got a massive fright", he said. "I was so lucky it hit the suspension. If it had been head on - just a few centimetres to the right - I reckon that would have been it for me."
After Ayrton Senna's decision to join McLaren for 1988, Johansson's career had gone into a massive downslide. He drove for Ligier, Onyx, AGS and Footwork and his only success was a sensational 3rd place at the 1989 Portugal GP for Onyx. He became a regular non-qualifier in the following years. Detroit was the scene of his IndyCar debut, and what a debut it was! The blue-eyed Swede finished 3rd for Tony Bettenhausen's team in a year-old Penske. If you think he became an IndyCar star - well, we all know he didn't. In 1996 he was involved in the tragic accident of Jeff Krosnoff, and at the end of the year he left the series.
He revived his career by winning the Le Mans 24 hours in 1997 alongside his old mate Michele Alboreto and Tom Kristensen driving a Joest Porsche. In that year he also won the other sportscar event, the 12 hours of Sebring. Nowadays Stefan Johansson is still racing in the new American Le Mans Series.