Academy step up for co-driver

When Nikita Gibson was young her family would joke their sluggish Fiat Bambina would be the car she finally got to drive. Now she is having the last laugh.

Nikita Gibson stands in the family's beloved Fiat Bambina car. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Nikita Gibson stands in the family's beloved Fiat Bambina car. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

The 17-year-old has added another achievement to an increasingly impressive rally career after being invited to attend Rally New Zealand's co-driver academy in Auckland next month.

Nikita is one of six to be chosen from 18 applicants.

The attendees will learn from professional co-drivers Alex and Rhianon Gelsomino during a three-day course.

Nikita was excited and having heard from one of last year's participants, she already had a good idea of what to expect.

''It ranges from media presence, to fitness training to nutrition, to writing your own pace notes, which is what I'm most looking forward to, because I'm going to get a whole lot out of it.''

She was also enjoying her final year at Otago Girls' High School and is considering studying for a bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Otago next year.

Nikita grew up around cars.

Her mother was born into the sport and her stepfather also raced and owns a panel-beating business.

Her early memories were of her washing vehicle tail lights and helping service cars, before jumping into one at age 12.

Since then she has done plenty of co-driving.

Notably, she came third in the 2016 Catlins Rally in a two-wheel-drive Escort, in the snow and ice, with Derek Ayson.

''Being on time, being calm and collected in the car,'' she said when asked what makes a good co-driver.

''Because if your co-driver's not calm, then your driver's going to freak out and either do something silly or not push as fast as they could.''

She had not done a lot of driving and while she was now old enough to get behind the wheel, she was keen to continue co-driving.

''Not many 17-year-old girls get the chance to do this, let alone grow up in the sport.

''The people in the sport, it's just one big family, even though you're always competing against each other.''

Nikita said more women had joined the sport in recent years.

''It's great because you get to catch up and see where everyone's at.

''There's three or four girls in the academy - out of six - which is quite a decent number, which is quite cool.''

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