Dave Neill is one of New Zealand's most popular co-drivers, and has an outstanding reputation as one of the best in both his home country and in Australia. A former gun cricketer, he spends 5 Minutes with RallySport Magazine.
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Name: Dave Neill
Occupation: Area Sales Manager
Role in rallying: Co-driver
RSM: Before rallying there was cricket. Is it true you were pretty handy and played at a high level?Dave Neill: Yes, I played cricket since I was a young kid, moving through the ranks to playing a number of seasons at senior club level in Canterbury.
I also played top club level indoors too. I also was lucky enough to play in a number of NZ national club tournaments
RSM: When did you swap the whites for a driving suit?DN: I’ve been involved in the rally scene for around 12 years now, getting my first co-driving role with Les Summerfield in a Subaru Impreza WRX, so that’s pretty much the day the whites were put away in the closet for retirement.
Dave Neill and Marcus van Klink in the Group B Mazda RX7 replica. Photo: via Dave Neill
RSM: Was there ever a consideration to drive, or was co-driving always your thing?DN: No, not really. I’ve always enjoyed the action from the passenger’s seat. It seems to suit me and my style and it has given me many awesome opportunities to live my passion and be involved with some cool teams and people involved in the sport.
RSM: After starting with Matt Summerfield, you've spent most of your career sitting beside Marcus van Klink. How did that partnership come about?DN: That’s right, my first NZRC gig was with a very young Matt Summerfield (16). Both Matt and I won two NZRC 2WD national titles together, so pretty much it come down to what is next for the team.
After discussions with the team it was uncertain if we would be doing another full NZRC season. At this stage Marcus van Klink had also been in discussions, asking me if I was keen to join him and debut his brand new Group B RX7.
After some thought and some brave pills, I decided to make the switch and joined Klink Rally Sport in 2011.
Kiwi co-driver Dave Neill.
RSM: Most events with Marcus have been in Mazda RX7s and RX8s. Clearly noisy engines and the sliding, pendulum effect of the Mazdas don't make you car sick?DN: No, I pretty much feel fine in the noisy/sideways rotaries. Once the helmet is on the mind set changes and you know you have a job to do, so pretty much I’m focused on that.
RSM: How much difference is there co-driving in the old Group B RX7 replica compared to the current RX8?
DN: I used to think the RX7 was comfortable and nice to sit in, but the RX8 is the next level of comfort –heaps of room, heaps of head space and side doors so we can store our race helmets, my hair gel and Marcus’s spray tan bottles, hahahaha!
So, it’s very modern and comfortable, but both cars are like bloody saunas with the extreme in-car heat though!
RSM: As a co-driver, do you prefer short, sharp sprint events, or long distance rallies such as the Silver Fern?DN: I love both. As long as I’m doing the event I’m pretty much a happy chappy.
Silver Fern for sure is a marathon event and you need to treat it differently. Mental and physical demands come into play from around day 3 or 4, so you need to be able to handle the extra pressures and fatigue to manage yourself and your driver.
Neill calling the pace notes in the mighty Mazda RX8. Photo: Geoff Ridder
RSM: You've also done quite a few events in Australia now. How does a Kiwi get a regular seat in Australia with an Aussie driver?DN: I’ve been extremely lucky to do a number of events in Australia. Grant Walker from Walker Motorsports gave me my first taste of international rally experience in his immaculate BDA Escort.
I’m forever grateful to him for that, as it has opened up other opportunities for me to compete in more events across the ditch. I’ve been lucky to team up with drivers such as Grant Walker, Justin Walker, Stewart Reid and Kiwi Derek Ayson driving in Ed Mulligan’s Escort.
Even though these rides haven’t been full season gigs, I would love to do a full Australian championship if the opportunity should arise.
RSM: You also regularly lead a group of Castrol / Ford reps on a tour to Rally Australia each year. Is that a nice change from the pressures of co-driving yourself?DN: Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to host a number of Castrol/Ford NZ clients to Rally Australia each year, along with the help of the RallySport Magazine team and Greg Paul from NZ as our primary tour hosts.
I love this part of my job and it gives me time to chill and appreciate our fantastic sport from a different perspective.
Even though I’d love to be competing in the event, I really love just chilling with customers in a relaxed atmosphere, watching the best in the world perform their trade.
Sitting beside Justin Walker in this year's Eureka Rally in Australia.
RSM: What sort of health do you think NZ rallying is in at present? Is much of the current success thanks to Hayden Paddon's reputation and his efforts in the WRC?DN: I think the NZ rally scene is extremely strong at the moment and we are continuing to see record entry lists at most events, including club level.
I’m sure the 2020 season will be no different, with the recent inclusion of the WRC round in September, I’m sure this event will be massive!
We are also seeing some very cool cars in our national championship: R5s, AP4s, sideways 2WDs, fast classics and a certain screaming triple Rotor!
Hayden has done amazing job to promote the sport and his efforts have been huge locally. I’m sure this has been a contributing factor to the extra numbers we are currently seeing on the NZ event scene at the moment.
RSM: What does the co-driving future hold for Dave Neill?DN: Nothing in concrete for the 2020 season yet, the priority is to finish the NZRC campaign at Rally Waitomo in October, and I’m sure discussions will be had after that event.
I love co-driving and I still hold a strong passion for the sport, so hopefully there are plenty more seasons ahead, along with some more overseas seat opportunities.
Dave Neill (left) and fellow Kiwi Derek Ayson. Photo: via Dave Neill
FAVOURITESFavourite rallies: Rally Otago, Rally Wairarapa
Favourite drivers: Marcus Gronholm, Colin McRae
Favourite rally cars: new shape Fiesta, Castrol WRC GT4 Celica, Castrol WRC Corolla
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