Three of New Zealand’s most promising young rally drivers have the opportunity to take a big step forward in their competitive careers as the recently-selected recipients of this year’s Rally New Zealand Rising Stars awards.
Stephen Barker (21, Hamilton), Ben Jagger (20, Whangarei) and Hayden Paddon (22, Geraldine) have won their respective divisions of the Rising Stars driver development programme with each driver receiving professional mentoring and funding worth over $50,000 to invest in their 2010 rally season.
“We are very proud to announce Stephen Barker, Ben Jagger and Hayden Paddon as this year’s winners of the three Rising Stars awards,” says Rally New Zealand chairman Chris Carr. “The judges had some tough decisions to select these three as the top competitors in each category, as some of New Zealand’s finest young rally drivers were involved in this year’s Rising Stars shootout.”
The three-tier Rising Stars programme comprises the Scholarship for drivers who have not previously contested the full New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) in a Group N car, the Development Award for drivers competing in the production car two-wheel-drive (also called Group N N3) NZRC class and the International Award for drivers competing in the production car four-wheel-drive (or Group N N4) class.
During an intense two-day shootout held at Rally Drive New Zealand’s Maramarua Forest headquarters, the three categories of drivers – 15 in total – were assessed on their physical fitness, their ability to interact with media professionally and to attract sponsors, and the likelihood of achieving their long-term career aspirations. The nine Scholarship contestants were also tested on their abilities behind the wheel on a closed gravel road.
Hamilton’s Stephen Barker fought off tough competition from his eight fellow  finalists to qualify for the top four along with Philip Campbell (23, Tauranga), Jordan Burley (21, Hamilton) and Kevin Laird (Gore, 24). The top four were then put through further interviews and driving assessment before Barker was selected as the second-ever recipient of the Rising Stars Scholarship.
Barker now has the opportunity to contest the Group N 2WD category of the 2010 New Zealand Rally Championship in a professionally-prepared Ford Fiesta rally car. Also included in the Scholarship prize package is professional mentoring.
“I’m speechless; I really don’t know what to say,” says a jubilant Barker. “I’m really excited about next season now and just can’t wait to get into it as the Rising Stars Scholarship recipient.”
The inaugural Development Award went to Ben Jagger edging ahead of the other two high calibre contestants, Patrick Malley (25, South Auckland) and Ben Hunt (21, Nelson). Jagger receives a professional mentoring and funding package worth more than $50,000 to step up to the Group N 4WD category in next year’s NZRC.
Reflecting on his success, Jagger says: “This is great, I have never won anything this big before and the Rising Stars Development Award really helps finalise our plans for next year. Absolutely ecstatic.” This season, Jagger has also won the 2WD rally championship title.
Hayden Paddon, from Geraldine, took out the inaugural International Award ahead of fellow contenders Kieran Hall (26, Nelson) and Josh Marston (24, Christchurch) to gain the $50,000 prize package he can use to contest an international rally outside New Zealand in 2010.
“This is fantastic; it really helps the team for our international campaign in 2010,” says Paddon, who also won the New Zealand rally championship title for the second time this year, and the Asia Pacific Pirelli Star Driver title which provides a Group N car and funding to compete in selected rounds of the 2010 FIA Production World Rally Championship.
“The Rising Stars International Award means we can contest the full Production World Rally Championship, plus look at getting some extra experience in Super 2000 cars,” says Paddon.
Carr adds: “We have no doubt that Stephen and Ben will justify the faith of the judges as our Rising Stars Scholarship and Development Award winners. We’re sure that the programme will aid their development as professional young rally drivers and we look forward to seeing their continuing successes on the national stage. With Hayden’s success as our International Award winner, we look forward to seeing him have the opportunity to make a significant impact internationally, just as he has nationally in recent years.”
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