Five of New Zealand’s best young rally drivers are set to do battle in Malaysia this weekend along with the best young rally talent in the Asia Pacific region. They will face off for the Pirelli Star Driver prize at Ancom Malaysia Rally round six of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.

The FIA Pirelli award is for the fastest under 28-year-old driver who will win a fully funded drive in the Production World Rally Championship for 2009 worth a reported value of 400,000 Euros. The new initiative, backed by Pirelli and FIA, is designed to identify and fast track young talented drivers onto the World Rally scene and perhaps uncover the next WRC Champion. Five drivers are chosen, one each from Africa, Middle East, Asia Pacific and two from Europe, and they will be given the step-up into one of five identical production group N or S2000 cars prepared and run by a European Team for PWRC.

This is an opportunity of a lifetime and one of the 5 Kiwis has good chance of winning the package when you consider that recently crowned New Zealand Rally Champion Hayden Paddon heads the list of hopefuls. He is backed up by Patrick Malley who is already off to rally in England later this year as winner of the NZ Ford Fiesta class, and Mark Tapper is no slug having won the Fiesta prize last year and previously first Kiwi home in Rally New Zealand in 2006. Brad Ayling and Kirsty Nelson will be waiting in the wings should anything happen to the others while making the most of their first overseas rally event.

The competition will be tough as the kiwis will be up against the might of the MRF team that will be backing Gaurav Gill from India. Gill has just won the previous APRC round in Indonesia. Australian Eli Evans has been one of the quickest in his home championship this year and is no stranger to the extreme conditions of Malaysia as he competed in the APRC series in 2006. Rizal Sungkar (Indonesia) Arjun Rao Aroor (India) and James Russell Malaysia make up the Pirelli field.

Paddon will be using his NZ Rally Championship winning left-hand drive Evo 9 on the event; Ayling and Nelson have also shipped over their regular Impreza WRX cars, while Tapper has leased an Evo 9 from Reece Jones Rallysport and Malley will be back in the Evo9 he campaigned in 2007. When you consider what is at stake the drivers all agree the event will be mentally and physically their biggest challenge to date.

The oppressive humidity and temperatures in the 30s make this one of the toughest rallies in the World not to mention the unpredictable weather and sudden downpours that within minutes can turn the roads into a treacherous skating rink and going off means hitting a solid palm tree! Most drivers have headed to Malaysia last week to acclimatise and focus on the build up.

Kirsty Nelson crew headed up early to work on the Impreza that virtually came off the last stage of Rally NZ and straight into the container! “ The boys have a lot of work to do and I want to reward them with a good performance” said Kirsty “to win is a tough ask but maybe this will open other doors for me as well” Brad Ayling is grateful for the 5000 euro package he won at Rally Whangarei “The Pirelli package has made it possible to contest this event, I pulled out of the home championship to concentrate on developing the WRX and my own driving and I am determined not to be there just to make up the numbers”

With the corporate chequebooks closed Mark Tapper is happy to have made the event at all! “I have only one chance as I am already 27” said Mark “I owe a great deal of thanks to my family who are backing me for this event, Reece Jones Rallysport for putting the EVO9 package together, and to Pirelli who have opened the door to drivers like myself who can only dream of rallying in a World championship ”.

Meanwhile Hayden Paddon is chomping on the bit “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and sweat but I feel we are up for the challenge, Can’t wait, bring it on!” Perhaps 24- year-old Patrick Malley has put the significance of this event into perspective “The opportunity offered to the young drivers competing is literally the chance of a lifetime. I can pinpoint no other race in which you can be catapulted onto the world stage purely because of your result in one event.”

The Ancom Malaysian Rally runs from 11-12 October in the palm olive plantations in the southern region of Malaysia with rally headquarters based in the city of Johor.

PHOTOS: Ross Hyde, Alan MacDonald(MacSpeed) and Michael Young(MPhoto)

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