A baptism by snow bank describes Dave Holder and Jason Farmer’s debut in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship at Rally Sweden.
The New Zealanders, from Mount Maunganui and Hamilton respectively, finished the high speed, winter rally and thus achieved their primary goal. To finish ninth among the 13-strong JWRC field, all in identical Ford Fiesta R2 EcoBoost rally cars, was a respectable achievement although Holder is the first to admit the pace of the front-running JWRC competitors was very different to his own.
There were challenges aplenty, especially the snow banks, for the 2016 New Zealand Rally Champions as they tackled a snow rally for the first time, but there were also plenty of positives to take from their first weekend of international competition.
“First, that we finished the event,” said Holder. “To record a finish was our number one aim. We also learnt a massive amount about the travel and logistics of how things work on these events.
“We’ve certainly got plenty to work on. We finished ninth in class, which is nothing special, but it is a finish. We completed every one of the 19 stages. We worked well in the car together. Now we start focusing on the next rally and do our best from there.”
Friday ended up being the most positive day for the all-Kiwi crew, despite getting stuck in a couple of snow banks during the day’s seven stages. Holder said: “Each stage we’re improving in terms of driving and notes. Whether it’s reflected in the stage times, maybe not so much, but certainly the feeling in the car is getting better each stage.”
Saturday, the pair aimed for a consistent, clean run throughout the day. “We started out well in SS9, nice and tidy, good feeling in the car, felt nice and smooth, easy pace. Unfortunately, in SS10 we went off on a fast right-hand, just clipped a snow bank, which spun us around 360 degrees. The car did a big pirouette in the air and fortunately landed back down on the wheels. We did a 20-point turn and carried on, but it knocked my confidence.”
Getting stuck in another snow bank on the repeat run of that stage didn’t make it any easier for Holder, but he did his best to continue with his goal of a steady, consistent drive.
With just three special stages to run on Sunday, they decided to just get through the rest of the event to the finish. “The times were really slow, but that’s what we decided we needed to do to get home and tick that box. Later we worked out that we’d had a bent rear suspension from Saturday’s spin so that had unsettled the car and contributed to us losing a lot of our confidence yesterday and today.”
Holder added: “Congrats to the local drivers Dennis Rådström and Emil Bergqvist for topping the JWRC results – they’re ridiculously fast, there’s no denying that. We’d like to say a big thanks to everyone back home for their support, messages and videos from stages. It’s nice to know New Zealand rally fans are behind us. We’re really grateful to get through the event and to have the opportunity to learn so much. Jase and I are looking forward to more to come and producing some more results in the future.”
Holder and Farmer return to New Zealand to continue their preparation for the April JWRC round on the French island of Corsica.