Mount Manganui’s Dave Holder and his co-driver Jason Farmer, from Hamilton, get their 2018 FIA Junior World Rally Championship season underway in stunning snow conditions at Rally Sweden which runs 15-18 February.
The pair are the first New Zealanders to compete in the JWRC which takes in five key European events – the opening JWRC round in Sweden, Corsica (France) in April, Portugal in May, Finland in July and the unknown roads of Turkey in September.
The only all-Kiwi crew in the WRC this season, Holder and Farmer’s debut WRC event will test the 2016 New Zealand Rally Champions.
“It’s been a really busy build-up to our international debut in all areas,” says 29-year-old Holder, who’s been in northern Europe since late January acclimatising to the below zero temperatures. “The rally presents more logistical challenges than we’re used to in New Zealand, so I arrived in Sweden a few days early to get my head around it all. That way Jason and I can focus properly on rally week with minimal stress. I’ve taken lots of advice about what to expect on a snow event, such as needing CO2 canisters in the car, to inflate tyres between stages, as the cold temperatures can see them drop too low on touring. We also carry snow shovels in the car in case we get stuck in one of the infamous snow banks.”
Holder has made a significant personal investment to prepare as well as he can for what will be his most demanding season of rally competition yet – five very different WRC events, all of which are new to him. Part of his Swedish rally preparation included a day at a winter rally school in Norway.
“Being on a frozen lake with nothing to hit but snow meant I could push way past the limit and not worry about damaging the car…it was also a lot of fun! Little details like feeling how the car behaved when you became stuck in the snow banks was good to experience. The instructor John Haugland provided expert tuition encompassing all aspects of competing on a snow event; it’s been very important for our leadup to the rally.”
The previous week saw Holder and Farmer participate in the official pre-season test with M-Sport Poland who are the JWRC category managers, responsible for building, preparing and running the identical Ford Fiesta R2 EcoBoost rally cars for all 14 JWRC competitors.
“It was great to get half a day in the car with the team! Although it wasn’t on snow as we’d hoped, that was probably an advantage in the end as we just focused on the car setup, rather than having to learn how to drive on snow/ice at the same time. It was also my first time back in a front-wheel-drive car for a while, but I was pleasantly surprised that the feeling came back pretty quickly.”
Holder feels good about working with M-Sport. “Everything about how they operate is very professional which means we can just focus on our job. The guys also have a great sense of humour, so I’m sure we can share some laughs alongside the learning this year!”
Farmer also valued the opportunity to test with the team. “It was fantastic to finally get to sit in the Fiesta,” says the 37-year-old. “It’s a great little car and although there was no snow we got some valuable seat time. It is awesome working with such a professional team.”
In terms of the rally itself, Holder aims to bank as much experience as possible on the three-day, 19-stage event based in Torsby, 400km northwest of Stockholm. “It’s cliché, but our main aim is simply to finish our first event. We’ll take a conservative approach and focus on driving clean and tidy everywhere. We won’t be looking at stage times, so we don’t add any extra pressure or get drawn into an early battle with our competitors. If we stay out of trouble all rally and adapt quickly, then you just never know where we might end up.”
During the early part of this week, the pair have the reconnaissance runs through each stage. “This recce will be the most important and challenging that I’ve done in my career,” Holder says. “Reading the snow/ice condition changes will be tough and we also need to write our notes to suit driving in the dark on a number of occasions. We don’t want to get stuck and waste precious time during recce either.”
Delivering the pace notes on a snow rally for the first time, particularly with Sweden being one of the fastest WRC rallies, is just one of the challenges Farmer faces. “Stepping up to the WRC is quite daunting. The regulations and rules are so much more involved than our national championship. I have been lucky enough to have both John Kennard and Seb Marshall help me out whenever I have any sticky questions, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of competing on snow. It’s something that has been on my bucket list so to finally be able to do it is awesome.”
While preparing for his debut in Sweden, Holder has continued to work hard to find the funding for the remaining four events. “We’ve been working our butts off behind the scenes to fund this campaign, my wife Adina and I have made a big commitment to make this a reality. Fortunately, we have the support of a fantastic team of people. The campaign is funded for this event in Sweden and our team has developed a number of new funding programmes aimed at ensuring we can compete this season and beyond towards a full WRC drive. Details will be released soon.”