CROSS­ING OVER

WE SIT DOWN WITH WITH TAL­ENTED WHEEL­MAN SLOAN COX TO TALK RAL­LY­ING IN NEW ZEALAND AND PUR­SU­ING RAL­LY­CROSS ON AN INTERNATIONAL STAGE

NZ Performance Car - - Contents - WORDS: JADEN MARTIN PHO­TOS: RX ACADEMY, NZPC AR­CHIVE

SLOAN COX: TAK­ING ON THE EURO­PEANS AT RAL­LY­CROSS

NZ Per­for­mance Car: Hey, Sloan. First of all, con­grat­u­la­tions on mak­ing it to Eu­rope to fur­ther your ral­ly­cross ca­reer. Can you tell the read­ers what sparked your in­ter­est in mo­tor­sport?

Sloan: Thanks, guys — I’m re­ally thank­ful for what we’ve achieved so far. My in­ter­est in mo­tor­sport started re­ally early on in my life, thanks to my fa­ther, who loved ral­ly­ing and fol­lowed it as a spec­ta­tor for years but didn’t get into the driv­ing side of things un­til later in his life when his busi­ness was do­ing well and the money was there to fund it.

My older sis­ter Tar­ryn and I would go along to events with him, so early on we would fol­low him around with our mother and the ser­vice team lov­ing it, and that put a love for ral­ly­ing into us both from a young age.

When did you first get be­hind the wheel your­self, and where did it start out?

At the age of 12, Tar­ryn started driv­ing and me, be­ing two years younger, had to watch and wait. When I fi­nally turned 12, that’s when things re­ally kicked off, and I started driv­ing at club events, learn­ing more to drive rather than race, and it would grow from there.

At 13, we had an Evo III club car that I learned to push hard, and, by 14, I had started to win club events against com­peti­tors of all ages and ex­pe­ri­ences. Things started out at just the Ro­torua Car Club, which I was a mem­ber of, be­ing lo­cal, and it even­tu­ally grew out to clubs fur­ther away, like Tau­ranga. As I got older, we could travel more, and, from 13 on­wards, we would head up to Thames Val­ley, which had some awesome events and plenty of seat time on of­fer.

we have won the NZRC ju­nior cham­pi­onship twice — that was awesome

It got to the point where I’d leave school on a Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon and head straight up to Pukekohe in Auck­land to com­pete in the evening bent sprints, then get back in the car and head back to Ro­torua to go to school the next day.

By 15 years old, we had en­tered in the New Zealand Rally Cham­pi­onship (NZRC) and com­peted at a na­tional level. The goal was al­ways to head overseas in the fu­ture, and, as I’ve al­ways had that love af­fair with rally, that’s what we aimed for, but with the growth of ral­ly­cross here and world­wide, that re­ally drew my in­ter­est

You men­tion step­ping up to NZRC at quite a young age — how big of a jump was it go­ing from those club events to a na­tional level at 15?

One of my dad’s goals was to have me and my sis­ter drive to­gether in a rally car, and she had given driv­ing a go pre­vi­ously but found that she en­joyed the co-driver’s seat more, act­ing as a co-driver with my dad. Once I hit 15, and she was 17, we en­tered my first pace-note rally at [the International] Rally [of] Whangarei — it was quite a big jump and sort of daunt­ing at that age, but we went back to ba­sics and went there with the in­ten­tion of just driv­ing, with the goal to fin­ish and prove that we could do what we were do­ing. We were young and ev­ery­one was watch­ing what we were do­ing, you know?

We were kind of the first at the time to do such a thing and that made me want to do it more. It took a while to get com­fort­able and be taken se­ri­ously, but it went well. We were young then and had a lot to learn, fo­cus­ing on get­ting the ral­lies un­der our belt and seat time at a na­tional level.

Did it take long to start see­ing some suc­cess at that na­tional level?

It’s ac­tu­ally quite an in­ter­est­ing one, as, al­though I’ve won many stages and rally sprints, etc., I’ve never ac­tu­ally won a rally be­fore. I’ve been close so many times but never had that suc­cess. I guess my best and most com­pet­i­tive times in ral­ly­ing were when Group N ral­ly­ing was still around; it was what we were re­ally fo­cused on and did well at, so when that kind of ended, we strug­gled for a bit to build a com­pet­i­tive car to the new rules — it was a bit of build-what-youwant, and it took us a while to get speed in that re­spect.

It’s al­ways been a grow­ing thing — de­vel­op­ing my driv­ing and even­tu­ally win­ning stages and show­ing what we could do from a young age. With the power stages, you could get ex­tra points, and I re­mem­ber, when I was seeded down, the top guys would come through think­ing [that] their po­si­tion was set, but some of the guys al­ways knew they had to watch my times, as it’s where I would have a good drive and push peo­ple down the list. Al­though, we have won the NZRC ju­nior cham­pi­onship twice — that was awesome — and also the NZ Hillclimb Cham­pi­onship in 2011/’12: we dom­i­nated that and went to ev­ery sin­gle round, scor­ing max­i­mum points, and then went to the fi­nal, scored max points — that was pretty wicked.

And through all that, what’s been your favourite ter­rain to drive on?

I was al­ways fast on tar­mac at the club events but have only done rally on gravel, so I en­joy both sur­faces, but I love where you get jumps and air time, go­ing fast and wild. Otago Rally is known for be­ing fast with big crests and jumps — that feel­ing of fly­ing through the air is bliss.

I’m def­i­nitely a mixed-sur­face per­son and that suits my kind of driv­ing style and what I love to do when driv­ing.

Talk­ing about jumps and vary­ing ter­rain, is that where the in­ter­est in ral­ly­cross came about?

Yeah. Look­ing into it more, I re­al­ized [that] it suited my style of driv­ing, and it was a show­man’s sport — I’ve al­ways been big on

putting on a good show for the crowd, as they’re there to watch you, so why not put a smile on their faces?

Ral­ly­cross is cars fly­ing through the air, go­ing be­tween gravel and tar­mac. That’s what caught my at­ten­tion; I thought, damn, that’s me. But it was a hard one to do in New Zealand, as it wasn’t un­til 2016 that Ron Dixon brought a ral­ly­cross event here — that was my first taste of it, even though it was a very dif­fer­ent for­mat to what they do in Eu­rope — but it was a good taste and I wanted more.

It took over a year be­fore NZ Xtreme Mo­tor­sport Se­ries started [its] … events, and that was awesome to com­pete in, al­though again, they weren’t like the Euro­pean and world-level ex­am­ples, so we knew we had to look fur­ther if we wanted this to be­come a thing. We started look­ing at where ral­ly­cross was al­ready hap­pen­ing; we couldn’t wait for New Zealand to take off.

How does the ral­ly­cross we’ve seen so far in New Zealand dif­fer to what is done in Eu­rope?

The big­gest one is the tracks. What we see in New Zealand aren’t the same style as what are be­ing used here in Eu­rope, and those that get used in the FIA World Ral­ly­cross se­ries. These are mas­sive 10m-wide tracks that have pass­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and are pur­pose built for ral­ly­cross, so they are con­stantly main­tained and de­vel­oped.

The tracks in New Zealand are pop-up tracks that are built for one event only, and al­though fun — they are fun — for ral­ly­cross, it’s hard, be­cause there aren’t those pass­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­ing nar­rower, and it can get quite dusty. To com­bat that, you drop wa­ter on the dirt; how­ever, it then be­comes too slip­pery on the grass sec­tions, so, in that re­spect, the tracks aren’t yet up to the international level. Plus, Eu­rope has had ral­ly­cross for a long time, and [it] has been hugely pop­u­lar for years. Some of these tracks have ex­isted for some 50 years and de­vel­oped over that time, putting more tar­mac cor­ners in and form­ing them into FIA World Ral­ly­cross venues. Eu­rope is where it’s big­gest, and it was hard to prac­tise for any­thing like that back home. To get into international ral­ly­cross, you have to start off in those be­gin­ning steps, and that’s what we are do­ing now with the RX Academy — try­ing to work up to the top classes

For New Zealand, it’s just time. Build­ing it up, stick­ing with the sport, and if pos­si­ble, build­ing pur­pose-built tracks, so it can be de­vel­oped over time.

You’re the first Kiwi to at­tend the RX Academy in Fin­land; what kind of op­por­tu­ni­ties does the academy present for you as a driver?

Firstly, be­ing in front of the big teams. Set Pro­mo­tions, which runs the

academy, runs cars in almost ev­ery class there is in in­ter­na­tion­al­level ral­ly­cross. And within the academy se­ries, run along­side ma­jor events, you’re in front of es­tab­lished teams and prov­ing your­self — they aren’t look­ing down to our part of the world yet to see what driv­ers are like … So be­ing able to prove my­self in per­son, that’s prob­a­bly the big­gest op­por­tu­nity. It might be a cou­ple of years un­til I can prove my­self to the teams, but it’s the start­ing point.

Se­condly, the prize for win­ning the academy is a funded drive the fol­low­ing year with RX Academy in a higher, and more recog­nised, class, so that’s a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity. That’d be a great chance to get into the seat again and help push my ca­reer to that next level — I want to com­pete next year no mat­ter what hap­pens this year, though. It would be good to get back into a four-wheel-drive car, as that’s more my style, but there’s a lot to be learnt in these front-wheel-drive cars [Re­nault Clio RS RX].

You podi­umed at your first event, too — did that help fuel the fire?

Yeah, it was a pretty big deal for me to get that podium. When I first jumped in the car at the prac­tice day, I was slow at first and had to re­ally get in my head how to drive the front-wheel-drive plat­form again. To be third and on the podium is just a wicked re­sult for us, and an ideal way to start the year. I’m pushing for a win next event or very soon; I’m ready to do it.

What would you say is the big-pic­ture goal that you’re work­ing to­wards with all this?

To get into the FIA World Ral­ly­cross se­ries. I know that it’s a big ask and there’s a lot to do to get there, but that’s what I’m aim­ing for. There’s some key steps [that] I need to make along the way — like jump­ing from here to the Su­per­car Lites (also known as ‘Su­per Lites’): space-frame-based four-wheel-drive non-turbo cars.

Then, af­ter that, work­ing to­wards su­per­cars. There are a num­ber of su­per­car classes, like the event we were just a part of, Ral­lyX Nordic — they have their own su­per class, and the Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship also have a su­per­car class. I’d like to get there as soon as pos­si­ble, as it’s a good pre-step be­fore the FIA se­ries.

It’s not go­ing to hap­pen in the next cou­ple of years; I need to work my way through the mo­tions to get there. My goal [for] now is to stay in Eu­rope rac­ing, fo­cus­ing on these overseas events and less in New Zealand. I still love the New Zealand events, and all my fans and spon­sors, but I re­ally need to stay in Eu­rope, do­ing more there to prove what I can do.

Has it been a chal­lenge be­ing in Eu­rope, away from the sup­port base you had com­pet­ing at home?

It’s hard to be away from home, es­pe­cially this first trip, which has been so long — I haven’t done this kind of thing be­fore. We are a fam­ily-based team that is so close, so, this year, to go away and do it for my­self, yeah, it’s been a big chal­lenge. I miss ev­ery­one be­ing here with me, and it can feel like I’m the only driver there at events who has no sup­port, but I know [that] I have the big­gest sup­port team be­hind me back home fol­low­ing what I’m do­ing.

It’s fine, though, as I need to make it hap­pen for my­self, too. Ob­vi­ously, I want them there in the fu­ture to be sup­port­ing me, but I do want to make this hap­pen.

You get ner­vous at times. Over­all, though, I’m lov­ing it, and I’ve learned a lot al­ready be­cause of it — I can’t wait for more. I’m re­ally en­joy­ing it on the other side of the world, and mo­tor­sport in Eu­rope is crazy, so I def­i­nitely want more.

What would you say is your ca­reer high­light to date?

Break­ing the 17-year-old record at The Ash­ley For­est Rallysprint. It was a big deal for the team, to break it on only our sec­ond year there, and then to break it two more times that same year, and go­ing back the fol­low­ing year to win the event and break it again with a 55.3-sec­ond run — that was huge for us.

That moment re­ally hit home when I got to the academy and I found out that one of the young boys here with me had seen the video way over in Swe­den and that he couldn’t believe that it was me — that’s def­i­nitely my big­gest high­light to date.

And, of course, be­ing here at the academy, mak­ing the podium at my first proper ral­ly­cross event. It’s a little vic­tory in my jour­ney here overseas, but it feels awesome to have that kind of suc­cess straight away, be­ing rec­og­nized and taken se­ri­ously in the sport — it’s a big high­light for where I want to head in my ral­ly­cross ca­reer.

Looks like you’re well on the right track to get­ting there, mate, and we wish you the best of luck for the rest of the academy sea­son — thanks for tak­ing the time to yarn

Break­ing the 17-yearold record at The Ash­ley For­est Rallysprint. It was a big deal for the team

NAME: SLOAN COX AGE: 26 HOME­TOWN: RO­TORUA, NEW ZEALAND CUR­RENTLY BASED: RX ACADEMY, FIN­LAND DIS­CI­PLINES: RALLY, RAL­LY­CROSS, HILL CLIMB ACHIEVE­MENTS: 2010 NEW ZEALAND JU­NIOR RALLY CHAM­PION, 2011/’12 NZ HILLCLIMB CHAM­PION, 2016 NEW ZEALAND JU­NIOR RALLY CHAM­PION, 3RD OVER­ALL LEADFOOT 2017, 2ND OVER­ALL LEADFOOT 2018 RECORDS: THE ASH­LEY FOR­EST RALLYSPRINT — 55.3S VE­HI­CLES: RE­NAULT CLIO RS RX, TASLO EN­GI­NEER­ING HILLCLIMB EVO, GROUP N EVO X, EX–DEAN SUM­NER EVO VIII, PULSAR GTI-R TAR­MAC, EX–LEE-ANNE BARNS EVO III, SUZUKI BALENO

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