Minnell keeps cool as heat grows for opener

By Jared Smith

Some national champions would take it easy with Christmas dinner before the beginning of a title defence two days later, but the fates dictate Leighton Minnell has other plans.

Unquestionably, this is the busiest time of the year for Minnell as he looks ahead to the start of tomorrow's New Zealand Jet Sprint Championship series at Shelter View.

But far from sitting in a quiet corner visualising how he and wife Kellie can match their feat of winning all six rounds last season, he has been arm-deep in petrol fumes and feasting with a host of international guests.

After a massive gathering of world-travelled friends at the Minnell household on Christmas Day, Leighton will spend all of today working hard as an official on Cemetery Circuit.

This after the parts for his boat finally arrived from America recently making Christmas Eve a busy night getting everything ship-shape for Upokongaro.

It's fly by the seat of the pants, No8 wire stuff, and Minnell wouldn't have it any other way.

"It generally doesn't matter because I'm in it for the long haul.

"You get home [tonight], then the head hits the pillow and you're straight up at 5am.

"Even the crew said, 'what are we doing building the engine on Christmas Eve?' I said, 'she'll be right'. Some people get all worked up, I'm the opposite. I actually relax when I'm strapped into the cockpit."

While he may be cool behind the steering wheel, Minnell knows the pressure is on as they chase a third straight national title, not to mention the lofty expectations after clean-sweeping every round in 2011/12.

Where can you go after such success? Only down it would be like scaling Everest twice.

In a much tighter and competitive field Minnell must face down fellow Wanganui driver Pat Dillon, who has been flying during his preparations. Fifth-ranked in the world, Steve Bron is another who wants, and deserves, strong consideration.

Minnell estimates about seven drivers fancy their chances of taking down the champs.

"I've been sledged and texted, and maybe a few are trying to get the mental push on me.

"Everyone wants to knock us of the perch it's healthy."

Shelter View will host the opening round tomorrow and the finale of the series on the evening of April 13.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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