Rallying in New Zealand, especially now we won't be having a round of the WRC, is at this precise point in time, not in a particularly good place. Not since the days of Possum Bourne has a Kiwi made a mark on the world stage.

Sure, there's been the odd New Zealander who's made a name for himself in the Asia Pacific championship but come on, it's not really playing with the big boys.

Some of you will be mumbling about the Kiwi-run RalliArt team in the PWRC, and fair enough, it's run by a Kiwi but the driver's not from around here.

Up to now, rallying in New Zealand, unlike circuit racing, doesn't have a feeder system, or a nursery, to bring aspiring rallying drivers up through a systematic learning process before dumping them in the big bad world of racing on dirt, gravel and snow.

Motosport New Zealand has so many classes for youngsters to make their way to the top starting with karting, then Formula Vee/Ford/First followed by the Toyota Racing Series with its wings and slicks race cars.

Just look at the number of young Kiwi drivers now plying their trade overseas in either European or international series. We have Brendon Hartley in F1 and F3, Earl Bamber in GP2 and Chris van der Drift in Formula International and GP2 to name but a few.

In rallying, drivers have to go and buy a car and just go racing. Those days of doing it the Kiwi way and just having a go are long dead - unfortunate but true.

You need a system to help, guide, mentor and train drivers from a young age, if the odd one is to make it all the way to the top.

And finally, Rally New Zealand, along with a few others, have put their collective hands in their pockets and stumped up some money, and support, to help young rally drivers get a leg up on the way to fame and fortune.

RNZ have introduced a nursery of their own in the guise of the Rising Stars Scholarship and two higher level Rising Stars awards. Applicants have to be under 26 on January 1, 2009, a member of a MotorSport New Zealand-affiliated car club and a New Zealand resident.

The scholarship is for drivers who have not competed in the Group N class of the New Zealand Rally Championship before, and provides the winner with a $50,000 support package, including professional mentoring and the use of a professionally prepared rally car to contest the N3 category - or two-wheel-drive production car class - of the 2009 New Zealand Rally Championship.

The Scholarship shootout last weekend, at which I was honoured to be a judge, was over two days and provided candidates with significant competitive driving experience and tuition, challenges from fitness and mental aptitude testing and the opportunity to demonstrate they have professional capabilities required of a full-time rally driver when dealing with media, sponsors and officials.

A great idea it has to be said, and good luck to all the drivers who didn't quite make the cut, and especially to the winner, Ben Hunt in this year's championship.

- Eric Thompson