It's the familiar storyline for young travellers — new places and friendships, opportunity, anxious moments, financial stress and helpful words of advice. And a few incidents that are funny once they can be viewed with hindsight.

The challenge of world-class competition can be added to the mix for Mount Maunganui rally driver Dave Holder, 29, who chased his dream in 2018 with a Junior World Rally Championship campaign.

Inspired in part by fellow Kiwi Hayden Paddon and also by his New Zealand Rally Championship victory in 2016, Holder took aim at the international career by stepping on to the third tier of the World Rally Championship. It took six return trips to Europe and saw Holder take a huge step out of his comfort zone.

The 2018 FIA Junior World Rally Championship was a high-speed – and expensive – adventure that took Holder and co-driver Jason Farmer (Hamilton) to Poland and Norway for pre-season testing and driver training and then to rallies in Sweden, Corsica, Portugal, Finland and Turkey.

Advertisement

The junior series is for drivers under-30 who compete in identical Ford Fiesta R2T cars. Seventeen drivers contested the series in 2018 and Holder finished eighth equal in the standings.

''We had some special moments along the way including our podium placing at Portugal, despite rolling the car,'' says Holder.

''We also had several stage wins at the final round [Rally Turkey], but for us, the highlight of the year was being recognised by the J-WRC organisers and M-Sport with a 'Spirit of the Rally' award. This was based on the positive attitude and character we showed in the heat of competition.''

Winning the 2016 New Zealand title showed Holder's talent behind the wheel. But one of the challenges facing Kiwi rally drivers who develop their skills on what are generally recognised among the best rally roads in the world, is then adapting to some of the worst roads.

''There were many challenges in our first year competing internationally, and it's clear there is no substitute for experience on European events,'' says Holder.

''Every competitor has a high level of talent, so it comes down to creating an advantage in other areas and having prior experience on specific events.

''Our first event of the season [Sweden] was on ice and snow with skinny studded tyres, in the dark and in a left-hand-drive car — all firsts for me.

''We were competing on events that most of our competitors had experience on, and sometimes, it was even their home event. The conditions on European rallies are vastly different to anything we have experienced in New Zealand, meaning right from the outset we were having to learn quickly.

Advertisement

''We had a number of big moments and lucky escapes, particularly on some big jumps, that we can laugh about now.''

Funding and travel logistics were at the forefront of the challenges facing the Kiwi champs.

''It's not easy to forget the financial hurdles we faced along the way. With a price tag of $400,000, we found ourselves constantly on the back foot trying to keep things moving.

''We arrived home from each rally with less than six weeks to find $50,000 or more to ensure we made it to the start line of the next event.''

Travelling back and forth to Europe on tight schedules and dealing with jet lag was another challenge.

''Our schedule usually meant leaving New Zealand on a Thursday, travelling for about 40 hours and arriving at the rally country on a Saturday.

''We'd get two days to recover before rally formalities kicked off on Monday for a full week. We'd finish the rally Sunday night and get straight back on the plane Monday morning.''

The Kiwis quickly schooled themselves in some handy travel hacks.

''I'm 6ft 6in tall and Jase is not far behind, so our first task when travelling was to make friends with airport counter staff with the hope of getting emergency row seats with extra leg room!

''We found bribery was the most effective with some Whittaker's chocolate to help with the negotiations.''

On his first trip Holder stepped off a plane in Poland wearing in shorts and jandals into the middle of winter (-10C) and discovered the airline had misplaced his bags for two days.

''Safe to say we received a number of strange looks from the locals and we quickly learnt that carrying a change of clothes and some shoes in carry-on luggage was a must.''

Holder says there were also some amusing differences in the way rallies were organised in Europe.

"Unlike New Zealand, at Rally Portugal the local authorities provided police escorts between stages, meaning we were following a police motorbike at 150km/h, passing stopped traffic and trying to keep up.

''In Finland, we had an unfortunate incident with our hired recce car before the rally began. After parking on a hill outside our accommodation, I came outside later to get something from the car.

''Strangely it wasn't parked where we left it. Given I was holding the only key the list of possible explanations was short. The car had decided to take a journey of its own down the hill before crashing into a lamp post.

''Long story short, we were forced to purchase the written-off car from the owner meaning we still own a car parked in a paddock in Finland. Although funny now, it was particularly stressful at the time.''

Holder says that as the year progressed a camaraderie built up among the J-WRC crews — a 17-strong field that included 12 nationalities and predominantly Polish mechanics.

''To begin with, most of our competitors kept to themselves. But Jason and I made a big effort to get to know them, and by the end of the season we formed a strong bond with many of the crews, and we continue to stay in contact. We've had some offers of help for our future European campaigns.

''Hayden Paddon also provided a lot of support with any questions we had throughout the year, and he also reassured us to trust our abilities and drive with confidence.

''Back in Tauranga, I've been very fortunate to be working closely with Graeme Fraser, who has been acting as a mentor and manager. And we have a fantastic board of directors and shareholders who have helped guide us through some tough times.''

Holder's rallying efforts weren't confined to Europe, and he competed in New Zealand events to maintain his skills.

''We focused on getting behind the wheel as much as possible back at home between events, as ultimately, it's cheaper than almost anywhere else in the world.

''This kept us match fit and was very important even though the conditions we faced overseas were vastly different.''

Holder is now working on plans that will put the 2018 experience to use and is finalising the next phase of his rally goals.

''It's tough to describe just how much we learned from competing in Europe, as well as how much we've still got to learn,'' he says.

''Getting pushed outside your comfort zone from New Zealand forces you to adapt and grow quickly as a driver.

''Aside from the obvious logistical nightmare that travelling from literally the other side of the world presents, we've also recognised that opportunities aren't likely to come looking for us here in little old New Zealand.

''At some point, the next move is to base ourselves fulltime in Europe. There's plenty of work going on in the background, and hopefully, I'll have some details to share in the new year.''