Motorsport: Kiwis make rally cars fly

By Eric Thompson

Stephen Barker.
Photo / Eric Thompson
Stephen Barker. Photo / Eric Thompson

Kiwi motorsport personnel are among the most sought-after in the world. If you've got a New Zealander on board, chances are you're not only getting a mechanic or engineer who knows his or her stuff, but also someone who can think on their feet.

Since Bruce McLaren built and raced his own cars in the 1960s, New Zealanders have had the reputation of 'can do' rather than 'can't be done'.

At this weekend's Brother Rally New Zealand, there are Kiwi mechanics and engineers at several service parks.

Stephen Barker has come home with the M-Sport rally outfit, which is looking after five cars in New Zealand.

He has a good pedigree as a rally driver, having won the rising stars programme in New Zealand before heading off to the UK where he beat 18 other young drivers to win the international Fiesta shootout.

As part of his prize Barker got to take Mikko Hirvonen, then a Ford World Rally driver, for a spin in a Ford Fiesta S2000. He also earned a testing role and a year's employment at M-Sport in 2011.

"I have a bit of experience when it comes to cars and so I based myself in the workshop from day one after I won the international shootout," said Barker.

"In the first 12 months I was doing hospitality when travelling as part of the team. It meant taking guests out on stages and talking them through what happens in the service park. But as my experience grew with building the car in the workshop, more opportunities to go away and work on the car became available.

"I jumped at the chance - and in all honesty who wouldn't?"

He's now a key crew member, travelling all over the world to look after American Ken Block's car.

He hopes to be able to get back behind the wheel with the other drivers on gravel.

"I've done a lot of testing and development on some new cars we've built at M-Sport recently, but since the scholarship ended I've become more of an employee. However, I got offered a car to use for the Malcolm Wilson rally this year - that didn't end so well.

"There's a couple of things in the pipeline to do a couple of national [UK] rounds later in the year. It would be a shame to be there and not experience some competition for myself," said Barker.

- Herald on Sunday

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