In an effort to get some positive traction for rallying, after the news of Suzuki and Subaru's withdrawal from the World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally New Zealand has announced a three-year initiative to develop young Kiwi talent.
The scheme will invest around $150,000 a year in an attempt to find the Kiwi rallying equivalent of Scott Dixon and Brendon Hartley.
"There is a wealth of young rallying talent in New Zealand," said Rally NZ chairman Chris Carr. "But we haven't seen a New Zealander take on the world's rally stars since the late Possum Bourne proved such a success internationally."
The first programme in the rising stars scholarship will provide the winner with a support package worth approximately $50,000, including a professionally prepared Group N N3 front-wheel-drive rally car, to compete in all five rounds of the New Zealand Rally Championship plus Rally New Zealand next year.
The second part to the programme is the development award, which aims to promote the Group N3 class as a starting point for up-and-coming rally drivers.
The winner receives $50,000 towards the cost of preparing and racing a Group N N4 (4WD) car in 2010's NZRC and Rally New Zealand.
"Take five-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb, for example," said Carr. "He was French national and FIA two-wheel-drive champion before he entered the WRC in 2002."
The final tier is the international award for drivers already competing in Group N 4WD cars. The winner of that category gets expenses to the tune of $50,000 that must be used in 2010 to compete in an overseas Asia Pacific Rally Championship, a WRC event, or the Pirelli star driver final overseas.
"The success of drivers like Scott Dixon can be traced back to the implementation of a strong career development programme," says Carr.
"We believe our rising stars' rally programmes will play an important role in offering the focused opportunities needed to enable more young Kiwi drivers to succeed on the world stage."