Alex Kelsey, the surprise package at the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship in Whangarei at the beginning of the month, is determined to hold on to his series lead at this weekend's Rally of Wairarapa.
The 19-year-old, with the experienced Raymond Bennett in the co-driver's seat, became the youngest driver to win a round of a national rally championship.
The youngster now finds himself seeded one on the road ahead of defending champion Richard Mason, former champion Chris West and last year's runner up Emma Gilmour.
Elite company indeed, but the Coromandel resident isn't fazed.
"I absolutely can't wait to get going this weekend," said Kelsey. "To be honest I'm also surprised they've [the organisers] let an open class car leave first. Hayden Paddon has given me a few tips on sweeping the road, as has Dean Sumner. I can't wait. I've never been first on the road in any championship let alone a national rally."
Kelsey has built the car himself and has taken some long-travel suspension pointers from the WRC cars and while it was the first big hit-out four weeks ago, he did mention it was still a work in progress. Not this weekend though, the workshop lights have been burning bright and long.
"I've done quite a lot of work on the car since the last rally to make sure it goes well. We had a lot of luck at the first round and have been working hard on car reliability," he said.
Kelsey continued his early season success last weekend winning the fourth round of the Northern Sprint Series at Twigg Road. Kelsey battled hard with former NZRC champion Dean Sumner, eventually snatching the victory.
As one of the world's most successful female rally drivers, Gilmour will want to take that last step and win her first NZRC title after coming so close last year. She is second in the series after being one of the pacesetters at Whangarei. She made history becoming the first woman to win a leg of a New Zealand national rally championship round on day one before a flat tyre dashed her hopes of an outright round win.
"There is definitely a sense of unfinished business heading for the Wairarapa," said Gilmour. "I was really pleased with my pace in Whangarei, and with a couple of suspension and engine tweaks since then, the aim will be to go faster again this weekend."
Gilmour's confidence this weekend has been boosted after a successful debut with her new co-driver Anthony McLoughlin at Whangarei.
"It is always a bit of a step into the unknown with a new co-driver, but we combined really well in the car first-time out: he is very thorough and professional in his approach, and delivers the pace notes really well.
"That's crucial in the Wairarapa, as the rally's fantastic country roads demand high levels of commitment."
Spicing the competition up will be the battle between the four former national rally champions West, Geof Argyle and Dean Sumner taking on local driver Mason who will be looking to get his 2012 season back on track after a DNF at Whangarei.
Rally Wairarapa gets under way today. It is round two of the NZ Rally Championship, round one of the Central Region Rally Series and will also feature the Malcolm Stewart Classic Rally.
Pedal to the metal
Points after one round:
1 Alex Kelsey 31
2 Emma Gilmour 23
3 Matt Jansen 22
4 Kingsley Thompson 17
5 Matt Summerfield 11
6 Chris West 10
7 Brian Green 8
8 Richard Mason 7