Staying sharp with drives in local events has been a key part of preparation for Mount Maunganui's David Holder as he heads into the penultimate round of the Junior World Rally Championship in Finland this weekend.
It's been 10 weeks since Holder and co-driver Jason Farmer (Hamilton) claimed a podium finish at Rally Portugal — the most recent Junior WRC event — and the Kiwi duo head to the forest-lined roads of Rally Finland feeling good about their speeds at the recent South Canterbury round of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
The Finnish event is the fourth round of the 2018 FIA Junior World Rally Championship and another opportunity for the pair to show they have what it takes to compete on the world stage.
''This is a bucket list event for us with the flow and speed of the stages,'' Holder said.
''As with the earlier events, there's a lot to take onboard at each round and challenges unique to Finland such as the high speeds, the jumps and the way the roads can rut up as the large field runs through.
''Our domestic competition is playing a vital role in keeping us match-fit, particularly with most of our JWRC competitors also rallying in other European events between JWRC rounds,'' Holder said.
''I think the South Canterbury stages really helped get us in the right mindset with average speeds in the two-wheel-drive, left-hand-drive Fiesta not dissimilar to what we'll achieve in Finland.
''With South Canterbury's one pass recce, Jason and I focused on getting as much information into the notes as we could. Competing on the stages with those notes showed we can have more confidence in our notes than we'd previously thought, so that was a really good step forward for us.''
Holder also raced on the gravel stages of the Nelson Rally recently, running as the event's zero (safety) car in the Stadium Finance Fiesta.
''I appreciate every opportunity for seat time, particularly in a similar car to the Ford Fiesta R2 EcoBoost we run in the JWRC.''
Being the first New Zealanders to contest the World Rally Championship's junior category has been a huge ask for Holder and Farmer. Holder said securing the budget to compete in the M-Sport prepared Fiesta is his biggest challenge.
''We're extremely grateful for our many supporters, especially HWR Group. We have a new initiative under way with HWR where the profits of any new client business we can bring to three HWR companies – Allied Concrete, Allied Lubricants and Allied Petroleum – this year will go to support our JWRC campaign.''
There are 15 crews entered in the Junior WRC category this weekend and Holder is ninth on the JWRC drivers' championship points-table. With 25 points up for grabs for the winner in Finland and double points for the final JWRC round in Turkey in September, he says it's mathematically possible for nearly any of the 14 JWRC entrants to win the championship title.
Rally Finland is based in the city of Jyväskylä and comprises 317.26km of competition broken into 23 special stages. The rally gets under way on Friday morning (NZ time) with the mixed-surface Harju street stage attracting big crowds in central Jyväskylä.
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