Young Kiwi rally driver David Holder has taken a big step towards emulating his mentor Hayden Paddon by securing a drive in the Junior World Rally Championship in 2018.
The 2016 New Zealand Rally Championship winner becomes just the third Kiwi to contest a full world championship after the late Possum Bourne and current Hyundai WRC star Paddon.
Holder is in Poland this week where he will meet the M-Sport Ford outfit he will drive for as well as the other competitors he will be up against.
"It is a big step up with the end goal of being where Hayden Paddon is at," Holder told The Herald. "There are plenty of steps to go – this is the first one – learn the rallies and do the two-wheel drive championship next year and then progress from there."
The Junior World Rally Championship is seen as a stepping stone to a full WRC move and is held over five different world championship rallies where it really tests the drivers' individual skill.
"Everyone is running in the same car, which is an R2 Fiesta - a 1 litre, turbo, two-wheel drive car," Holder explained. "Everyone is in the same thing, run by the same team, which is M-Sport so it all comes down to the drivers and what they can do on the selected events.
"The whole idea of the championship is to give quite a broad array of rallies to test the drivers on – we start with Sweden, which is snow, then Corsica, which is tarmac before three gravel rallies.
"It will be a big learning experience while trying to be competitive as well."
While Holder's primary goals will be to gain experience there is also a huge reward for the driver that wins the championship. The winner of the championship gets a brand new Ford Fiesta R5 – a category 2 world rally car. They also get free entry fees, free fuel and 200 tyres to help go and compete in that next feeder class to the WRC in 2019.
"I think it is a two-fold goal for us," Holder said. "To go there and do these rounds and compete overseas for the first time is a huge undertaking so we want to go there and do a lot of learning and test ourselves against these guys but you can't negate the fact that is a big prize on offer so when it comes time to deliver the goods later in the season on the gravel events that we are a bit more familiar with we will be trying to put some points on the board."
A number of the drivers that are currently in the WRC have contested this category and used it as a way to get into the full WRC. Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Ogier and current M-Sport factory driver Elfyn Evans have all entered the elite level via this championship.
"It is certainly a big opportunity for David," Paddon said. "The JWRC has always been the stepping stone to WRC – you have seen many drivers come through that in the past. Being with M-Sport is a good environment for him to learn. It is very different to the New Zealand championship but I think David will adapt quite well to that as well though.
"He is a very capable driver, he looks after the car, he is very smooth, he listens to all the advice he is given and is always willing to learn. If you take that mindset going forward to the WRC you will continue to grow.
"He has a great opportunity and I think he will make the most of it," Paddon added.
The cost of entering the championship is significant but Holder is confident he has the budget to do it. Vehicle Inspection NZ are supporting him and he's looking for a couple of extra sponsors to make the dream happen.
"It comes with a price tag of $240,000 for the arrive and drive aspect of it and then you need to get yourself over there and accommodation and all of that. The whole package is worth around $320,000 to do the championship which is a lot of money but there is a lot involved in it.
"We have got a wee bit of work to do on the budget aspect of it but at this stage we are just focusing on one step at a time and making sure we are there at the start line in February."