Exclusive: The Racing Umpire

At every round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Australia, you’ll find Steven Johnson hanging around the paddock.

Not driving – although there’s no doubt the former Supercars round winner would love to be behind the wheel of a 400hp Porsche GT3 Cup Car – but instead you’ll find the tall Queenslander sitting in race control.

That’s because Johnson is the series’ Driver Standards Advisor for both of Porsche’s top one-make series in Australia.

If the term is familiar, it’s because you’d have heard it used quite regularly in Supercars competition as the designation for a former driver (formerly Jason Bargwanna, now Craig Baird) who sits in race control and helps the race director make calls about on-track incidents.

But the role for Porsche’s motor sport operations in Australia is, as Johnson explains, somewhat different.

“We’ve changed the title to the driver standard adviser, rather then the officer,” Johnson says.

“I’m not trying to go out and be the bad guy! I’m the one telling the bad people what they should do and what I think from my point of view being in the race car.”

The broad role includes not only helping officials officiate, but offering an ear to drivers looking for improvement, or for an explanation on what they might have done wrong on track.

So in some way, it’s reasonable to look at Johnson as a cross between an umpire and a footy coach, merging both roles into one.

“It’s not only that with regards to driving infringements and incidents on track, but with regards to mentoring and talking to the guys on track—the guys that are non-professionals—and coaching them on what they can and can’t do and how they could avoid certain incidents,” Johnson said.

“Explaining what they could have done differently in certain predicaments is a big part of that as well.

“It’s a broad range and sometimes you’ve got to be the bad guy and say ‘no, you made a mistake there’ when they don’t think it is, and point it out to them so hopefully they learn from it in the end.

“I don’t want the guys there, the stewards, to penalise them, but if they are going to penalise them I want to help get them the least possible penalty as well.

“So I am on the drivers’ side, even though sometimes they don’t think I am sometimes!

“My role is there to make sure they learn from that and to give my professional opinion … especially on the pro-side of things too, generally as a pro racer you’re never wrong and sometimes you’ve got to tell them they are!”

The coaching aspect of the role is focused on the semi-professional or amateur drivers who often enter the respective series without the wealth of knowledge and performance that either the experienced veterans or young-guns bring.

“For general driving stuff, they can come and talk to me about that,” Johnson added.

“Most of them are aligned with a pro, of some sort, within a team, so they’ve got data they can really look at and use … a lot of them do come to me for my opinion probably because of the broad range of racing that I have done. I know that I can help them in certain instances as well.

“It’s not so much on the pro side; that’s just related to the racing, who’s done right and wrong and who’s done what during the race, but a lot of times for the elite guys, for sure.”

His well-documented Supercars career is one thing, but Johnson brings added experience across a wealth of categories to his Driver Standards role. This includes time racing in Porsches and working at Queensland’s Porsche sport driving school.

“I have worked for Porsche for quite a long time now but I’ve also raced a Cup Car as well,” he explained.

“I’ve got experience in the cars and I’m part of that whole Porsche thing. They wanted someone who has done a lot and was creditable: Bairdo [Craig Baird] was in there and he’s done a great job and moved on to V8’s and, it was I guess between Bairdo and myself for that role last year so it worked well.

“I enjoy it—it’s good! It’s still a lot of paperwork, but I really enjoy it and trying to broaden their range of motor sport.”