Kiwi rally pairing Dave Holder and Jason Farmer head to the testing gravel stages of Rally de Portugal, starting 17 May, with the odds slightly more in their favour.
Holder and Farmer, from Mt Maunganui and Hamilton respectively, have always rallied on the gravel roads of New Zealand. With the first two 2018 FIA Junior World Rally Championship events run on snow and tarmac, they’ve been well out of their comfort zone. But rallying on gravel is something the pair are more familiar with and while they’re not taking it for granted – given the well-known challenges of Portugal’s often rocky, rutted special stages – it’s one less thing they have to learn while at the rally.
One of 14 JWRC entrants in Portugal, Holder says he’s not underestimating the challenges.
“We are aiming to finish, as we have for the first two events, but this time we’d like to finish in the top five of our class,” says Holder. “We think that’s realistic given that it’s another new rally for us, and everything that means in terms of doing a good job writing pace notes during recce. The others in our class are also at a different level compared to the level of competition we have in New Zealand.
“We’ve just got to relax and drive the rally, one day at a time. We’re back on the right surface now and with the experience gained in Sweden and Corsica, the stress levels of what goes on around the event get less each time.”
Earlier in May, Holder and Farmer made the most of the opportunity to drive a two-wheel-drive car at the International Rally of Whangarei, in New Zealand. The car, a Ford Fiesta R2, was similar enough to their JWRC-spec Ford Fiesta R2 EcoBoost rally car to offer Holder an excellent chance to work on developing his left-foot braking skills. They also worked hard on their pace note writing during the two-pass recce (Whangarei is the only New Zealand event to use the two-pass recce).
“Whangarei was pretty much the perfect the lead-in to Portugal,” says Holder, having set a number of new 2WD stage records and finishing ninth overall.
“Our two goals – left foot braking and refining our pace notes – went really well, although it’s fair to say Whangarei is a rally I know well so we could write good notes that worked really well during competition. Now we’re in Portugal, somewhere we’ve never been before, so it’s still a challenge to write good notes during recce this week.”
The decision to change his driving style to incorporate left foot braking, after almost eight years of competition using his right foot to brake, is one Holder believes is needed for greater speed in the longer term. “I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it yet, but we managed to be fast, as well as nice and safe, so I was happy with that.”
Coming out of a familiar event they enjoy also offered Holder and Farmer a welcome change of pace after the intensity of the first two JWRC rounds when they had so much to learn, absorb and adapt to.
“In many respects, Whangarei was quite relaxing, among competitors we know well. Compared to WRC events, there was a lot less to do which allowed us to concentrate on our own developmental goals. We didn’t have any pressure, being separate to the main competition, but you can’t help be a bit competitive with a faster team or two. We were really happy to set some 2WD stage records, especially one on Sunday in the wet.”
Looking ahead to the Portuguese event based near Porto, in northern Portugal, the Kiwis face 358.19km of competition, broken into 20 special stages and connected by nearly 1,574km of touring stages. The event opens on Thursday evening at the picturesque Guimarães Castle before a 3.36km blast around Lousada rallycross circuit. Friday takes them toward the Spanish border for three stages repeated both morning and afternoon, and then back to Porto for two super special stages in the city centre. The longest leg of 154.64km, on Saturday, takes them east into the mountains with another repeated loop of three stages. The rally concludes on Sunday with five stages, including two runs on the famed Fafe stage which attracts tens of thousands of spectators. That is itself is going to be an exciting experience for Holder and Farmer.
Holder adds: “The commitment to undertake this JWRC campaign can’t be underestimated, and I’m thankful to Jason and his family for their support, our sponsors and supporters, and my wife Adina.”
Holder acknowledges the continued support of HWR Group, Mt Wheel Alignment, Chicane Racewear, Magnum Compliance, Farmline Machinery, Mt Bikes, KPMG Tauranga, Cooney Lees Morgan, Bell Booth, Thurlow Building & Construction, Monit Rally Computers and Amplified Customs.
More information about Holder’s world rallying journey can be found on the website, www.daveholderrally.com or their social media channels: https://www.facebook.com/DaveHolderRally/, https://twitter.com/DaveHolderRally and https://www.instagram.com/daveholderrally/.
2018 Junior WRC calendar for Holder and Farmer
Rally Sweden, 15-18 February
Rallye Tour de Corse, 5- 8 April
Rally de Portugal, 17-20 May
Rally Finland, 26-29 July
Rally of Turkey, 13-16 September
Source: Kate Gordon-Smith/Relish Communications
Photo: Adina Holder
Christchurch-born race driver Marcus Armstrong has started strongly – but with some frustration – in the 2018 FIA Formula 3 European Championship’s opening round over this weekend at Pau in France.
Armstrong, 17, was fifth overall in the first race of the season, improved to a podium in the second but was unable to finish the third after being nudged into the wall and then caught up in a midfield crash.
In race one Armstrong showed his potential: “I had a good start, we went from P9 to P6 and our pace was good as well in the early laps so I was pretty happy. The car felt good too and if we just got qualifying right, maybe we could be on the podium, but for being the first race in Formula 3 and the first race at Pau, I’m satisfied.”
His team-mate, Guanyu Zhou, won the race.
Sacha Fenestraz and Alex Palou were 1-2 from start to finish in the second race while Armstrong carved his way through from sixth place behind them to be third.
“That was a long way on a street circuit – P6 to P3! My start in race 2 was okay, not particularly good, but not particularly bad either. In turn 1, I then managed to take fourth place. After Scherer crashed into the barriers and slid back onto the track, he almost collected me. From that point of view, I was lucky to be on the podium in the first place.”
Armstrong said he was ‘partially buried’ in P8 for the rainy third and final race of the weekend, and well in the ‘danger zone’ where most opening-lap crashes occur. There was chaos at the start when Alex Palou ‘bogged’ and partially stalled, then having avoided the almost stationary car of Palou Armstrong was held off the racing line by Dan Ticktum.
“It was a very low grip piece of track and I had no way to slot back onto the racing line,” he said.
Ticktum then bumped tyres with the Kiwi, sending him over a pedestrian kerb and into the Armco.
“It wasn’t a big hit but big enough, I hung on but was dropping back and then Ferdinand Habsburg and I came together in low visibility on the front straight and I hit the wall so that was it, race over on lap seven,” he said.”
His team-mate, Ralf Aron, grabbed the lead off the start from P3, defended his position on the restart after the cars of Habsburg and Armstrong were recovered and won the race, which was shortened by the rain. Armstrong is now fifth on points after one round and third in the rookie standings. His Prema team leads the teams’ standings.
“I’m really disappointed to miss another chance to make points, but third in the rookie points and fifth overall is a good start.”
European Formula 3 brings Kiwi driver to a massive audience
Marcus Armstrong will race this year in front of the biggest trackside and TV audiences he has ever seen. The growing profile of Formula 3 and the impending merger of F3 and GP3 mean the eyes of race fans, team managers, talent spotters and media are fixed on the F3 grid as never before.
The process began last year.
The 2017 race calendar took the FIA Formula 3 European Championship teams and drivers to eight different countries. During the course of the season they had to demonstrate their skills not only at current Formula One race venues, such as Spa-Francorchamps, the Hungaroring, Spielberg, Monza, the Hockenheimring and Silverstone, but also at two challenging street circuits: Pau and Nuremberg’s Norisring. The race meetings were attended by an average crowd of 63,600 visitors, representing an increase of about 9,000 visitors per event compared to 2016. The season finale at Hockenheim was witnessed by 152,000 spectators live on site and the Norisring meeting attracted 125,000 visitors. The fact that the FIA Formula 3 European Championship is very popular with motor-racing enthusiasts away from DTM events was demonstrated by the fact that the FIA Formula 3 race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps and the season kick-off at Silverstone were attended by 65,000 and 50,000 visitors respectively.
Indications are that this year’s championship will attract audiences up to 20 per cent greater in number both trackside and on television.
Kiwi driver Sloan Cox showed he’s on the right track with his new rallycross endeavours, securing a well-deserved third place at his very first international rallycross event at the Höljes Motorstadion in Sweden on 6 May (CEST).
Cox, from Rotorua, has joined the RX Academy for the 2018 season, taking a new direction away from the New Zealand Rally Championship to focus on the intense, stadium-based motorsport discipline of rallycross, aka RX.
Considering Cox had had just one official test day in his 220 horsepower Renault Clio RS RX car, identical for all eight academy participants, and had never raced on a European rallycross circuit before, the result is all the more significant for the 26-year-old.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be on the podium at round one,” Cox says. “Of course I wanted to win but everyone is there to win! I knew it was going to be a tough battle because everyone was so even. So, a sensible drive to get on to the podium was more important than pushing for the win. I have learnt in motorsport that being consistent is the key so this is the great start to the year.”
Part of Cox’s preparation for the first of five RX Academy events was a three-day academy training camp.
“We focused mainly on the theory side of things with mental fitness, media skills and driving techniques. I enjoyed all the areas but what I wanted to work on the most was mental because rallycross takes a very different mindset to rally. The car is very different going back to front-wheel-drive, so I need to change my driving style, and racing with cars around me is obviously not what I’m used to.
“All the competitors worked real well together and I can tell it’s going to be a good year with tight battles. The RX Academy tutors are top level and have amazing experience. Christoph Treier, mental coach has worked with many top athletes and drivers in WRC and World RX. Head of media Hal Ridge also works in media for the World RX. Jussi Pinomäki, the head of RX Academy, leads the driving coaching and is a very good driver himself and runs other championship winning RX drivers.”
At the official test day in Strängnäs, Cox focused on quickly adapting to the front-wheel-drive Renault after his powerful four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi at home. “I love the car; it was awesome to drive. We did four laps in each session and did eight sessions. The track was a very good track to learn on. The day started out wet which was a challenge but good to learn as it exaggerated how you have to drive the car. As things dried out, we got faster. I concentrated hard on learning and made big improvements during the day. I felt by the end of the day I had really proven what I could do. I wasn’t the fastest, but I proved I could hold good speed and be consistent.”
Cox’s Renault also stood out from his competitors with a colourful custom design. “At the beginning of the year we were given the option of applying our own livery to the car at our own cost, so we made the most of the opportunity to replicate the design done by AWS Graphics that is also seen on our Taslo Engineering hillclimb beast. I believe that having a standout, different car is very important.”
Going into the first event at Höljes where the RX Academy category was part of massively popular RallyX Nordic championship, Cox says he had a feeling that he hadn’t had before. “When I rally I get very nervous at times, but this was such a new experience that I don’t know what to think. I was very excited but wasn’t expecting too much of myself; I just wanted to learn as much as I could.”
Saturday’s schedule saw Cox join his academy colleagues in a free practice session and qualifying heat, finishing each four-lap session seventh and sixth overall respectively. Further qualifying on Sunday saw Cox improve to fifth overall with several fastest lap times. His goal was to be one of the six drivers who made the final, which he did with second place in his semi-final. The semis and final comprise five, mad-dash laps with a whole race taking about four-and-a-half minutes.
“After the semi, my next goal was a podium in the final. I knew after the test day that a win was going to be hard work and I had more to learn, but a podium meant I could start the year with good points. And that I did with a third place finish in the final, so I’m now third on points after the first round.”
Cox is confident the change to the high intensity rallycross is a good move. “I’m feeling very positive for the year; now I just need to keep improving so I’ll be working on getting more seat time in front-wheel-drive cars on both tarmac and gravel. There’s also a possibility of racing in the RXA Australian Rallycross Championship – we’ll know more on that soon.”
He’s also loved his time in Europe so far. “Finland was a beautiful place and the whole SET Promotions team (which runs the RX Academy) were so welcoming straight away and made me feel so comfortable. Sweden is another amazing place and the people here are so nice. Europe is motorsport crazy and I have been lucky enough to meet some famous people and see amazing motorsport history on this trip.”
Before he returns to New Zealand, Cox will join RX Academy coaches and competitors at a round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship in Belgium and see rallycross competition at the highest level.
Cox will head back to Finland for three more RX Academy rounds – 16 June (Honkajoki), 11 August (Jalasjärvi) and 25 August (Kouvola), before the season concludes on 7 October at Tierps in Sweden.
Cox’s 2018 rallycross campaign is supported by Taslo Engineering, AJ’s Emporium, Driveline Automotive, Signedge and Teng Tools. Follow the news and action on Facebook: Sloan Cox Motorsport Ltd or RX Academy.
Source: Kate Gordon-Smith/Relish Communications