Mount Maunganui's David Holder has been racing around a slippery tarmac track near Krakow, Poland this week preparing to launch the next phase of his international rally driving career.
The 2016 New Zealand rally champion has applied for a place in the 2018 Junior World Rally Championship and on Thursday he tested one of the M-Sport Poland prepared Ford Fiesta R2 EcoBoost cars which provide the one-make formula for the series.
The next step for the 28-year-old is to continue raising the Euro185,000 budget that secures a start in five WRC rallies that comprise the 2018 Junior WRC.
"Right from the outset, I've made no secret about rallying being more than a hobby for me," said Holder.
"We had thought about entering the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, but this year's fact-finding trip to the Spanish World Rally Championship event and other parts of Europe confirmed that this is where I need to be to continue learning and developing as a driver."
Holder counts Kiwi WRC star Hayden Paddon among his mentors and has twice had the opportunity to drive Paddon's local Hyundai i20 AP4 car, including a winning drive at the Otago Rally this year. He says Paddon's connections and advice have provided invaluable help to his career.
"Hayden's been pivotal in a number of my career decisions, and always has wisdom and advice to offer in any rally situation," said Holder.
"Now more than ever, his guidance will be key as we prepare for events that are new to us. Ultimately he's been a big believer in me during the good times and the bad, so I'd love to reward his faith and perseverance with me by making it on the world stage."
The Junior WRC is structured to encourage young rally talent (under-29) from the around world and provide them with experience at WRC level. The Junior series will run on five of 13 rallies in the WRC.
All competitors will drive M-Sport prepared Fiesta R2 Ecoboost cars. The Fiesta is a 180-horsepower front wheel-drive car, not dissimilar to the Toyota Corolla and Ford Fiesta ST that Holder drove when he began his rallying career but quite different to the four-wheel-drive turbo cars he's been driving in recent years.
"The biggest thing for us is getting in and doing some kilometres in a car for seat time. Some of these young guys own an R2 of their own so they get plenty of kilometres under their belt before the season."
The prize for 2018 Junior WRC Champion will be a new Ford Fiesta R5 with sufficient tyres, fuel and entries fees to contest seven rallies in the WRC2 category of the 2019 World Rally Championship.
"There's no doubt the prize package on offer is fantastic, I mean who doesn't want to win an R5 car?" said Holder.
"However, we need to be realistic about our first year over there. We'll be up against young guys who not only already have a lot of experience on the events but are the brightest talents from around the world.
"Jason and I plan to take the first two rallies — Sweden and Corsica with their respective and unfamiliar snow and tarmac surfaces — steady and ensure we finish every kilometre to get the most from the experience. After that we'll have some knowledge of the car and team, so will target podium finishes for the second half of the season."
The five events on the WRC calendar start with Rally Sweden in mid-February and continues with rounds in Corsica, Portugal, Finland and the new rally in Turkey in September will be the final round.
The roster of past Junior WRC champions include French stars Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier along with current WRC drivers Craig Breen (Ireland), Elfyn Evans (Wales) and Stephane Lefebvre (France).