Southlander Dave Holder moved to Mount Maunganui seven years ago and quickly took the title of New Zealand Rally Champion. Now, with only finances standing in his way, Coeliac New Zealand's newest ambassador, is putting it all on the line to become a world rally champion.


There is this hairy point when he's "on the limit" that the dust flies, and so nearly too does Dave Holder.

As he crests a hill at high speed, he bobs violently in his bucket seat, and literally cannot round a corner any faster. Trees outside his co-driver's window morph into blurry blobs.

Driving as fast as one dares would make the average person's stomach flip-flop, but for Holder, it's euphoric.

He learnt to drive a tractor at age 5 and a car at age 7, taught by rally-enthusiast big brother James, who now owns Mount Maunganui-based Monit Rally Computers.

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At age 7, Holder had his own car, a dodgy brown 1976 Hillman Avenger, on his parents' sheep and deer farm in Invercargill.

He competed in his first rally sprint when he was 12 but didn't race again until he was 23.

It was meant to be just for fun, but step by step he found himself pursuing bigger dreams, and within five years was the 2016 New Zealand rally champion.

Nowadays, in Mount Maunganui, he still rolls his Rs when he talks, and life is warmer by the beach but not slower.

He is currently back home in between legs of the Junior World Rally Championship, with Hamilton-based co-driver Jason Farmer. The experience is a stepping stone to a full-time WRC career.

Holder is the third Kiwi to ever contest the world championship after the late Possum Bourne and current Hyundai WRC star and his mentor, Hayden Paddon.

On top of this, he's a new ambassador for Coeliac New Zealand, and this week is awareness week.

Prior to his coeliac diagnosis, he would refuse food on race days to avoid unwanted pit-stops.

"I've got probably the more humorous side of the bowel symptoms," he says, with a wry grin.

"I had an accident on a rally, actually. There's a story about always carrying a hanky in your pocket, but I won't go into detail."

He'd previously struggled to gain weight, was grumpy, tired, had headaches and unpredictable bowel motions.

When a blood test and endoscopy in 2012 confirmed what medics suspected, he was most reluctant to give up M&Ms and pastry.

"I was like: 'Oh yeah, that's all good to know, but I'm not that keen. Thanks very much'."

Coeliac disease is a permanent autoimmune disorder that causes a reaction to dietary gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats.

After his coeliac diagnosis, his whole family had to be tested, given it's a hereditary disease and his mother Wendy tested positive.

The biggest misconception about being gluten-free is that he's on a "fad diet", he says.

With his disease under control, and carefully monitored whilst travelling, he's been "putting it all on the line" to compete in the Junior World Rally Championship, which consists of five rounds across Europe (Sweden, Corsica, Portugal, Finland and Turkey).

He and co-driver, Farmer, have completed three rounds (with a third podium finish in Portugal) and will head to Finland at the end of July. The championship tests drivers' individual skill by everyone running in the same car, overseen by the same team.

Holder and Farmer have overcome major environmental hurdles in Europe thus far, including driving in snow.

Dave Holder (right) and his co-driver Jason Farmer at the finish ceremony for the most recent JWRC event in Corsica. Photo / Honza Fronek
Dave Holder (right) and his co-driver Jason Farmer at the finish ceremony for the most recent JWRC event in Corsica. Photo / Honza Fronek

The biggest challenge has been the "insane" financial cost of $350,000 to do the championship.

"At the start of the year, I was like 'This is impossible, but in an 'only God' fashion, we manage to do it'."

He's needing to find $50,000 by the end of the month to make it to Finland.

"I wouldn't say you're ever confident," he says of finding the money. "But it all comes together. We've been in the same situation for every rally."

He struggled in Sweden, having run around madly to raise funds to get over there and race, and then, jet-lagged, had to perform.

"Mentally, it's really tough. I'm just trying my best, honestly. I know at the end of the day, if this doesn't come off, there's no way I've got any regrets because I've thrown everything we've got at it."

"Mentally, it's really tough. I'm just trying my best, honestly. I know at the end of the day, if this doesn't come off, there's no way I've got any regrets because I've thrown everything we've got at it."

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He's been away for 90 out of 150 nights this year, mostly self-promoting around New Zealand at rallies and car club events.

"It's just like anybody starting a business, which is essentially what we're doing - making it a viable thing."

He sold his first and only rally car, a Toyota Levin, to buy an engagement ring five years ago, and has fortunately borrowed rally cars since then.

He and wife Adina recently borrowed $100,000 to kick-start his WRC rally career, which they will need to pay back.

The couple live in a rented two-storey beach house and survive off Adina's wage as a physio, and whatever contract work Holder can do as a mechanical engineer when he's in between rallies, promotion and fundraising.

"Adina often says she wishes I'd been good at badminton, and at times, I've thought I'd rather be able to sing well instead, but you make the most of the talents you've got."

He can laugh at the desperateness of making his dream come true.

The biggest challenge of the JWRC has been the
The biggest challenge of the JWRC has been the "insane" financial cost of $350,000 to do the championship. Photo / John Borren

He's an optimist, and an all-around nice guy, with a relaxed nature.

He's missed weddings, 21sts, hanging out with friends and having friends, to pursue motorsport because he has a natural ability, and has always known "this is the direction in my life".

Adina is happy to go along for the ride, and extremely supportive, but draws the line at being fanatical.

"That's why we don't have any rally memorabilia around," he says scanning his immaculate and fairly minimalist lounge. "We have scented candles and some wedding photos."

Rallying struggles for visibility in New Zealand, where it's largely a "minority sport", while elsewhere in the world it's big-league.

Big is where Holder wants to be. "The goal and the motivation is to be world champion."

"The goal and the motivation is to be world champion."

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He has a personal goal of six years to achieve that but says realistically, it could be eight years.

He is aged 29 which is "quite old" in motorsport, but given rally driver Sébastien Loeb retired at age 38 after winning the world championship consecutively nine times, he feels he's got time.

"Although a lot of people don't see it that way. Fortunately, I look quite young. I shave and then I'm like 23 again," he jokes.

As well as having commercial sponsorship from big and small businesses, he's now set up a shareholding scheme.

Holder, pictured in Corsica, says rallying struggles for visibility in New Zealand, where it's largely a
Holder, pictured in Corsica, says rallying struggles for visibility in New Zealand, where it's largely a "minority sport", while elsewhere in the world it's big-league. Photo / Honza Fronek

Shares can be purchased for $10,000 and when Holder gains success, payment reward is capped at double the shareholder's investment.

Currently, there are 15 shareholders, with a volunteer board of experienced directors overseeing the syndicate, including Cooney Lees Morgan lawyer Murray Denyer and four-time Bathurst winner Greg Murphy.

Holder is a Christian athlete and used to volunteer for foster care organisation Homes of Hope, as well as working with children with cerebral palsy.

His faith plays a big part in his life and the rally car he once owned had a cross on its bonnet, but he doesn't get too "voodoo-ish" about symbolism.

"I just understand that no matter what happens, it's all part of a plan. You do have crashes, and I have had crashes, but I've never had any injuries."

He works with a sports psychologist to keep mentally on track, confiding he can be going along a stage - "and this is not a good thing by the way" - and listening to pace notes, and be thinking about what he's going to cook for lunch.

His mum sits up all night in New Zealand, with both interest and worry when Holder, her youngest child, is racing overseas.

About a year ago, his co-driver noticed that when they got close to a tree or bank, Holder instinctively swung his legs furthest away from the object.

"You're sort of squeezing your bum as you go past," Holder explains, demonstrating the movement while pretending to steer, from his seat on the couch. "That's quite exciting when you get away with moments like that."

He has a small white-painted room at home, that houses his race gear and memorabilia.

On the carpeted floor is a packed and ready suitcase, and on the wall is a sign that reads: "If it takes tyres or testicles, it's gonna give you trouble."

When he enters this room, he ducks down. At 1.98m, the door frame doesn't accommodate his height.

Holder has a small room at home, that houses his race gear and memorabilia. At 6'6, the door frame doesn't accommodate his height. Photo / John Borren
Holder has a small room at home, that houses his race gear and memorabilia. At 6'6, the door frame doesn't accommodate his height. Photo / John Borren

Outside, and visible through a window, is his Italian Fiat Multipla or "Uglymobile". He bought the teal-coloured Fiat for $1500, and only because it's left-hand drive so he could practice for European driving.

He's had to develop "muscle memory" of reaching for the handbrake on the opposite side, and developing spatial awareness of the passenger side, front corner.

Simple stuff in a road car, but it needs to be second nature in a race situation.

"It's the Popemobile at the back - it's got big, wide windows. And then at the front, it's got three full front seats. Honestly, we're thinking about sign writing it because I've never driven it yet, where someone doesn't laugh at me or look at me funny. It's actually a real head-turner."

The steering wheel is taped "all colourful and pretty" as a tool for measuring corners.

Having his car fly when driving is what he calls "Type B fun". "You can go from hero to zero quite quickly.

"You go home and like: 'Man! We got away with that moment - sideways doing a jump. And we missed that tree, by like, this much'."

Holder is grinning ear-to-ear just visualising it.


# If you'd like to help Dave Holder, by donating towards his JWRC journey, go to: www.daveholderrally.com

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