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Top young race and rally drivers put through paces

23 June 2005
Elite Academy puts top young race and rally drivers through their paces

A new batch of New Zealand’s top young race and rally drivers are about to head off to Dunedin for what is believed to be the only elite training academy of its kind in the world.

Nine up-and-coming drivers who are selected for their potential to excel will take part in the Motorsport Elite Academy, a six-day intensive development programme which is jointly hosted by the NZ Academy of Sport: South Island (ASI) and MotorSport New Zealand.

The 2005 Academy builds on last year’s highly successful pilot of the initiative, and includes new features such as computerised testing of decision-making abilities.

“We are delighted to have entered into a long term relationship with the MotorSport Trust to host the annual Elite MotorSport Academy Programme in Dunedin,” says Kereyn Smith, CEO of the New Zealand Academy of Sport South Island.

“The combined resources of the University of Otago and the Academy of Sport make Dunedin the ideal location for the programme. Last year’s programme broke new ground for the sport and for the city of Dunedin. Not only are we able to provide insights for the drivers into their performance and how they improve it, but also provide the basis for research into race driver physiology and psychology. Dunedin is uniquely placed to host such a high tech, edgy programme,” Kereyn says.

Starting on the afternoon of Sunday 26 July and running every day from 7am to 9am, the young elite drivers will be put through their mental and physical paces while being taught the knowledge and skills to advance professionally.

The testing will be done at the University’s cutting-edge Human Performance Centre (HPC), with the other training sessions and seminars at the Academy of Sport facilities. The programme draws on a unique range of facilities, personnel, resources and research capacity the University and the ASI have in combination, says HPC Director Dr Chris Button.

“The programme concentrates on the full gamut of factors crucial to enhancing the drivers’ performance – such as strategies for coping with the intense physiological and mental demands of racing, ensuring peak fitness, optimum nutrition, and the best use of clothing and safety equipment,” says Dr Button.

A new test introduced this time will examine the drivers' decision-making abilities while being confronted with multiple sources of information. The drivers will use WOMBAT software from the University’s Cognitive Ergonomics and Human Decision Making Laboratory, which is normally used for their research into air traffic control and piloting, says Dr Button.

Also included in the battery of testing, seminars and workshops are gruelling sessions with racing simulators in the HPC’s environmental chamber, where the drivers will use and compare strategies for combating the extremely high temperatures their sport exposes them to.

Musculo-skeletal screening and fitness training are other key focuses because of the extremely physically demanding nature of race and rally driving, says Dr Button.

Each day begins with intensive gym sessions, and an indoor triathlon competition forms part of the week.

Other areas vital in developing their careers such as gaining sponsorship, and developing public speaking and other personal skills will also be focused on, he says.

The programme will have a competitive edge to it, with the participants judged throughout the week in their performance and application in all elements of the Academy programme, from driving, to decision making to media and presentation skills. The winner will be announced at a Cocktail function at the conclusion of the programme.

The participants are: Lee-Anne Barnes, Andrew Higgins, James Holder, Brendon Hartley, Matthew Hamilton, Daniel Gaunt, Shane van Gisbergen, Ben Harford and Emma Gilmour. Brief profiles appear below.

2005 – Elite Motorsport Academy Drivers Profiles

Lee-Anne Barns

Now living in Auckland, Lee-Anne is from Rotorua where her motor sport career began as a Go-Kart competitor, culminating with successive national ‘dirt’ titles in 1997 and 1998. As a rally driver she was seventh overall in last year’s Top Half Series and first placed woman driver. Currently competing in the National Rally Championship she’s aiming for a top ten placing and the title, Rookie of the Year.

Matthew Hamilton

Matthew works as an aircraft engineer in Christchurch. Between 1995 and 2004 he was the New Zealand Karting champion on six occasions and at the 2002 World Rotax Max Finals he performed very well: fastest qualifier, the lap record and won two heats and the pre final. Matthew’s current plans include competing in the 2005-06 Toyota Series, testing for and racing in the 2006 Infiniti Pro Series in the USA and the New Zealand Sprint Kart championships.

Ben Harford

Ben is a Wellington geology student who is also contracted to Motorsport Talent Developments (MTD). Since 1998 he has competed in inter-marque races in his father’s MG BGT. He raced in the 1999 Manfeild winter series, placing seventh overall and the following year he became the winter series champion. In the current Toyota Series Ben currently lies eighth and plans to be in next year’s series as well as continuing in the Inter-marque sprints. His long-term goal is to be World Formula One Champion.

Brendon Hartley

At 15 and a student a Palmerston North Boys High, Brendon is the youngest member of the Academy but has nearly 10 years competitive experience at the wheel. He retired from Go-Karts at 13 to drive a Formula First and, later, Formula Fords, coming second in the summer series. He is now competing in the Formula Toyota Series and currently lies in second place.

Andrew Higgins

A mechanical engineering graduate, Andrew works in Auckland as a project engineer. After three years in Go-Karts he raced successfully in the Porsche Series for two years and has also had four years experience and success in Formula Fords, including runner-up to Rookie of the year in 2002. His aims include racing ‘wings-and-slicks’ overseas and the single-seater circuit in the USA.

James Holder

Originally from Southland and a mechanical engineer by profession, Andrew is a product development engineer. Four seasons ago, while still a student, he began rallying with a Hillman Avenger. Two years later he turned his personal car into a rally car. This season he’s driving a Toyota Levin, competing in the National 2WD Championship. Andrew has also had several hill climb and rally sprint placings, won his class in the Waitomo rally, was third at Canterbury ...with more results to come.

Daniel Gaunt

Daniel currently works for International Motorsport, after working in the UK as a driving instructor. He was South Island Formula Ford champion in 2001, third in the Formula Ford Grand Prix in 2002, and in 2003 was the Gold Star winner in the Australian Drivers’ Championship and also the Australian Formula Ford Champion. Winner of last year’s F3 Lady Wigram Trophy, Daniel is currently fourth in the Toyota series. He is in negotiations to race in the USA this year, in the Infiniti series next year and plans to be in an IRL car by 2007.

Emma Gilmour

Describing herself as an ‘apprentice professional rally driver and business administrator, Emma has become the first woman driver to gain a top ten placing in the annual Race to the Sky. In the current national Championship, with a third and a fifth respectively in the Otago and Wairarapa rallies, Emma is in second place. Her long-term aim is to become a full-time professional on the international rally circuit. Attending a specialist snow rally school in Norway last Christmas is part of that determination.

Shane van Gisbergen

The current holder of the Speedsport Star of Tomorrow Scholarship, 16-year old Shane is a year 11 student at Auckland’s St Kentigerns College. Since 1998 he has been winning national titles on the speedway and motorcross circuits and is currently leading the Auckland senior TT championship. On four wheels, driving a formula first, the current season is Shane’s first and currently he is the leading rookie, lying third in the overall championship.


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