Young New Zealander Samantha Gray has made a meteoric rise up the rallying ladder. After just four years in the sport, she’s already co-driving for New Zealand’s most successful rally driver ever, and says everything is possible in the future. We spend 5 Minutes with the Kiwi. RSM: Do you still have to pinch yourself that you're co-driving for Hayden? Samantha Gray: Yes of course! If someone had said to me when I first went for a ride in a rally car that in under four years I would be competing with Hayden, I would never have believed them. How did the opportunity to ride with him come about? Hayden is all about helping young Kiwis, and together with Hyundai New Zealand and Pinnacle Programme, an opportunity arose for me to sit alongside Hayden at Whangarei Rally. This opportunity quickly turned into South Canterbury and Eureka Rush Rally. Recently you've contested your first international event. How did you find the experience? I absolutely loved it! I’ve always been keen to see what rallying is like outside of New Zealand and I was surprised at how similar it was, apart from not knowing hardly any people around the service parks. The roads in Australia are obviously quite different. Did that take some getting used to, and how did you have to adjust? The main difference was probably more during recce. I found some sections a lot harder to write my notes neatly as I am so used to the smooth flowing roads of New Zealand. However, during the rally I didn’t find it too much different, as you get so focused in what you’re doing, you hardly notice where you are. This year you've been competing in an Escort RS1800 with Regan Ross, and AP4 and an R5. As a co-driver can you feel the differences between each car? Yes of course, there is obviously a big difference between the rear-wheel drive and a four-wheel drive on corners. But I didn’t find it to much different from my side of the car between the AP4 and R5, apart from the road conditions, etc.

Jumping for joy with Regan Ross in the Otago Rally. Photo: John Croutch

Which is the easiest, and most difficult to co-drive in? From jumping in and out of these cars it does take a few corners to get back in the swing of things, but once back in the car you quickly adjust to the speed and delivery of the notes. I don’t tend to have too many difficulties, although in the 4WD cars I can’t really see over the dash, so I probably fit a little better in the smaller Escort! You are also driving yourself as well. What car is that in, in what events, and how many events have you done? A couple of years ago my parents decided to start rallying again after selling their last car when I was little. They brought a cheap wee Mazda 323 front-wheel drive. After one rally in it, dad decided he needed a little more horsepower, so I decided to buy the car off my parents. I have driven in two rallies, Lawrence 2016 and Hamner 2018, as well as a few local sprints.

Samantha Gray, Eureka Rally 2019. Photo: Peter Whitten

Is driving something you’d like to continue to do into the future? I like driving, but I love going fast, and to be honest I’ll never drive the speed that I currently co-drive in. But I’m finding that writing my own pacenotes and listening and trying to drive them does help with my co-driving. Now that you're with Hayden, are there areas in your preparation that you have had to improve? If so, what? Generally, my preparation has stayed the same, I’m still doing the same job, just at a faster pace. I try to keep the prep the same for any rally I do, as I don’t want to put more emphasize on one rally and put stress on myself. Where do you see your career going in the next five years? Well, to be honest, I never thought I would get this far in rallying in four years, so I guess that means everything can happen! But as long I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’ll be happy.

Riding with Paddon is a dream come true for Samantha Gray. Photo: John Doutch

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