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Suppose you’re a female competitor and have had a short but dramatic career rise in rallying, you have your own rally car and an enthusiastic father who supports you.

Instead of sitting at home watching re-runs of Survivor or Neighbours, texting your mates on your mobile and doing other things that less-focused girls do, you decide to enter your Mitsubishi Lancer Evo in a round of the National Rally Championship (an event that just so happens to be a round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship as well). After a two-day battle with some of your country’s leading clubman competitors, you find yourself on the podium after winning the  Clubman section, the first woman ever to achieve an outright rally win in your country.

So you look for an encore. The New Zealand round of the World Rally Championship is approaching rapidly and your father encourages you to put an entry in, knowing that the best you can hope to achieve is a lowly placing amongst such experienced company. So you put an entry in and begin planning your assault on an event which is equal to the pinnacle of rallying anywhere in the world.

After two days of recce and three days of arduous rallying that would leave even the toughest man struggling to handle, you finish without a mark on your car in 31st place outright against some of the best drivers in the world. Nothing strange about this, you might say – WRC competitors do this time after time.

The only difference is that this particular competitor, Kirsty Nelson, is only 16! Actually, we tell a lie – the sparky young New Zeander has just turned 17! And for good measure this is only her second year in the sport.

Most fathers tend to be very protective of their teenage daughters, and Kirsty Nelson’s father, Peter, is no exception. It’s just that instead of ensuring she’s tucked in bed safely at night and that her homework is up to date, he’s also making sure that she has the best possible opportunity of proving her skill behind the steering wheel of a rally car.

The fact that he is also a keen rally driver obviously has had some bearing on her leisure time, and through watching him she picked up the rallying bug while other girls were at home playing with dolls.

Nevertheless, you would have to ask why someone would encourage their high school daughter to compete in one of the world’s most dangerous extreme sports, just to try and secure a scholarship to enable her to continue rallying. But that’s exactly how it is for the Nelsons.  And while it’s hard for those of us with daughters to appreciate exactly what she has taken on, the fact remains that she has quickly become a very talented driver in her own right.

Sure, there is no shortage of young superstars coming through the ranks – Matthew Wilson, Emma Gilmour, Jari-Matti Latvala and others, just to name a few, so 16 years old no longer seems to be too early to make a start. While we older people can only stand around and marvel at the skill levels of those who were only recently babies in their mother’s arms, these teenagers are out there strutting their stuff.

On present indications (and provided the money holds out) it seems there’s no good reason why Kirsty Nelson won’t be one of her country’s leading competitors before her father hands her the key of the door when she turns 21.                                                                                                                   

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