A top-10 finish at last weekend's International Rally of Whangarei has been valuable preparation for Dave Holder's next outing in the Junior World Rally Championship.
Mt Maunganui-based Holder and co-driver Jason Farmer (Hamilton) used a borrowed Ford Fiesta R2 at the Whangarei event and finished ninth overall and the second-placed two-wheel-drive car.
The Whangarei outing was a significant build-up as the five-round Junior World Rally Championship now moves to three gravel events — the next in Portugal from May 17-20.
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"It was really good to do a rally on gravel in a Fiesta before heading to Portugal," said Holder, who currently sits 11th out of 16 registered drivers in the Junior WRC standings after two rounds.
"We had a good run with no problems apart from a spin in the last stage which cost us about 15 seconds."
The 2016 New Zealand rally champ had two specific targets for the two-day event — learning the left-foot braking technique that will minimise the throttle delay which is a characteristic of the Fiesta and to gain further experience writing his own paces notes.
"The left foot braking went pretty well. I've worked out the advantage of it and did a pretty good job of it," said Holder.
"I was really pleased with the pace notes we made, but we have to be realistic and consider that Whangarei was a rally we've done a few times before and we know the roads and understand the lines. Portugal will be more challenging."
On his run to ninth place, last weekend Holder fought a two-wheel-drive battle with the Ford Escort RS1800 of Kaikoura's Regan Ross. He held a slim advantage after day one but slipped behind the more powerful Escort on day two.
"There were a few more hills in the Sunday stages which didn't suit the Fiesta," said Holder.
WRC Rally Portugal sees a 14-car field entered in the Junior WRC category — all driving identical Ford Fiesta R2 cars.
"Our first focus in Portugal is to do a really good recce," said Holder.
"The only real advice we've had about what to expect is from Hayden [Paddon]. He says it's a great rally in the dry with a few rough, rocky sections but it gets diabolically slippery if it rains.
"Our goal is to have a good clean run, and I think a top-five is achievable. I'd be very happy with that."
Rally Portugal is the mid-point of the Junior WRC and where Holder hopes to begin moving up the order after the first two events on unfamiliar surfaces — snow in Sweden and the tight mountain tarmac roads of Corsica.
Following Portugal, the gravel theme continues with the final two JWRC rounds in Finland (July 26-29) and Turkey (September 13-16).