We sit down with with talented wheelman Sloan Cox to talk rallying in New Zealand and pursuing rallycross on an international stage
Name: Sloan Cox
Hometown: Rotorua, New Zealand
Currently based: RX Academy, Finland
Disciplines: Rally, rallycross, hill climb
Achievements: 2010 New Zealand Junior Rally Champion, 2011/’12 NZ Hillclimb Champion, 2016 New Zealand Junior Rally Champion, 3rd overall leadfoot 2017, 2nd overall leadfoot 2018
Records: The Ashley Forest Rallysprint — 55.3s
Vehicles: Renault Clio RS RX, Taslo Engineering Hillclimb Evo, Group N Evo X, ex–Dean Sumner Evo VIII, Pulsar GTI-R tarmac, ex–Lee-Anne Barns Evo III, Suzuki Baleno
NZ Performance Car: Hey, Sloan. First of all, congratulations on making it to Europe to further your rallycross career. Can you tell the readers what sparked your interest in motorsport?
Sloan: Thanks, guys — I’m really thankful for what we’ve achieved so far. My interest in motorsport started really early on in my life, thanks to my father, who loved rallying and followed it as a spectator for years but didn’t get into the driving side of things until later in his life when his business was doing well and the money was there to fund it.
My older sister Tarryn and I would go along to events with him, so early on we would follow him around with our mother and the service team loving it, and that put a love for rallying into us both from a young age.
When did you first get behind the wheel yourself, and where did it start out?
At the age of 12, Tarryn started driving and me, being two years younger, had to watch and wait. When I finally turned 12, that’s when things really kicked off, and I started driving at club events, learning more to drive rather than race, and it would grow from there.
At 13, we had an Evo III club car that I learned to push hard, and, by 14, I had started to win club events against competitors of all ages and experiences. Things started out at just the Rotorua Car Club, which I was a member of, being local, and it eventually grew out to clubs further away, like Tauranga. As I got older, we could travel more, and, from 13 onwards, we would head up to Thames Valley, which had some awesome events and plenty of seat time on offer.
It got to the point where I’d leave school on a Wednesday afternoon and head straight up to Pukekohe in Auckland to compete in the evening bent sprints, then get back in the car and head back to Rotorua to go to school the next day.
By 15 years old, we had entered in the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) and competed at a national level. The goal was always to head overseas in the future, and, as I’ve always had that love affair with rally, that’s what we aimed for, but with the growth of rallycross here and worldwide, that really drew my interest
You mention stepping up to NZRC at quite a young age — how big of a jump was it going from those club events to a national level at 15?
One of my dad’s goals was to have me and my sister drive together in a rally car, and she had given driving a go previously but found that she enjoyed the co-driver’s seat more, acting as a co-driver with my dad. Once I hit 15, and she was 17, we entered my first pace-note rally at [the International] Rally [of] Whangarei — it was quite a big jump and sort of daunting at that age, but we went back to basics and went there with the intention of just driving, with the goal to finish and prove that we could do what we were doing. We were young and everyone was watching what we were doing, you know?
We were kind of the first at the time to do such a thing and that made me want to do it more. It took a while to get comfortable and be taken seriously, but it went well. We were young then and had a lot to learn, focusing on getting the rallies under our belt and seat time at a national level.
Did it take long to start seeing some success at that national level?
It’s actually quite an interesting one, as, although I’ve won many stages and rally sprints, etc., I’ve never actually won a rally before. I’ve been close so many times but never had that success. I guess my best and most competitive times in rallying were when Group N rallying was still around; it was what we were really focused on and did well at, so when that kind of ended, we struggled for a bit to build a competitive car to the new rules — it was a bit of build-what-you-want, and it took us a while to get speed in that respect.
It’s always been a growing thing — developing my driving and eventually winning stages and showing what we could do from a young age. With the power stages, you could get extra points, and I remember, when I was seeded down, the top guys would come through thinking [that] their position was set, but some of the guys always knew they had to watch my times, as it’s where I would have a good drive and push people down the list. Although, we have won the NZRC junior championship twice — that was awesome — and also the NZ Hillclimb Championship in 2011/’12: we dominated that and went to every single round, scoring maximum points, and then went to the final, scored max points — that was pretty wicked.
And through all that, what’s been your favourite terrain to drive on?
I was always fast on tarmac at the club events but have only done rally on gravel, so I enjoy both surfaces, but I love where you get jumps and air time, going fast and wild. Otago Rally is known for being fast with big crests and jumps — that feeling of flying through the air is bliss.
I’m definitely a mixed-surface person and that suits my kind of driving style and what I love to do when driving.
Talking about jumps and varying terrain, is that where the interest in rallycross came about?
Yeah. Looking into it more, I realized [that] it suited my style of driving, and it was a showman’s sport — I’ve always been big on putting on a good show for the crowd, as they’re there to watch you, so why not put a smile on their faces?
Rallycross is cars flying through the air, going between gravel and tarmac. That’s what caught my attention; I thought, damn, that’s me. But it was a hard one to do in New Zealand, as it wasn’t until 2016 that Ron Dixon brought a rallycross event here — that was my first taste of it, even though it was a very different format to what they do in Europe — but it was a good taste and I wanted more.
It took over a year before NZ Xtreme Motorsport Series started [its] … events, and that was awesome to compete in, although again, they weren’t like the European and world-level examples, so we knew we had to look further if we wanted this to become a thing. We started looking at where rallycross was already happening; we couldn’t wait for New Zealand to take off.
How does the rallycross we’ve seen so far in New Zealand differ to what is done in Europe?
The biggest one is the tracks. What we see in New Zealand aren’t the same style as what are being used here in Europe, and those that get used in the FIA World Rallycross series. These are massive 10m-wide tracks that have passing opportunities and are purpose built for rallycross, so they are constantly maintained and developed.
The tracks in New Zealand are pop-up tracks that are built for one event only, and although fun — they are fun — for rallycross, it’s hard, because there aren’t those passing opportunities, being narrower, and it can get quite dusty. To combat that, you drop water on the dirt; however, it then becomes too slippery on the grass sections, so, in that respect, the tracks aren’t yet up to the international level.
Plus, Europe has had rallycross for a long time, and [it] has been hugely popular for years. Some of these tracks have existed for some 50 years and developed over that time, putting more tarmac corners in and forming them into FIA World Rallycross venues. Europe is where it’s biggest, and it was hard to practise for anything like that back home. To get into international rallycross, you have to start off in those beginning steps, and that’s what we are doing now with the RX Academy — trying to work up to the top classes
For New Zealand, it’s just time. Building it up, sticking with the sport, and if possible, building purpose-built tracks, so it can be developed over time.
You’re the first Kiwi to attend the RX Academy in Finland; what kind of opportunities does the academy present for you as a driver?
Firstly, being in front of the big teams. Set Promotions, which runs the academy, runs cars in almost every class there is in international-level rallycross. And within the academy series, run alongside major events, you’re in front of established teams and proving yourself — they aren’t looking down to our part of the world yet to see what drivers are like … So being able to prove myself in person, that’s probably the biggest opportunity. It might be a couple of years until I can prove myself to the teams, but it’s the starting point.
Secondly, the prize for winning the academy is a funded drive the following year with RX Academy in a higher, and more recognised, class, so that’s a massive opportunity. That’d be a great chance to get into the seat again and help push my career to that next level — I want to compete next year no matter what happens this year, though. It would be good to get back into a four-wheel-drive car, as that’s more my style, but there’s a lot to be learnt in these front-wheel-drive cars [Renault Clio RS RX].
You podiumed at your first event, too — did that help fuel the fire?
Yeah, it was a pretty big deal for me to get that podium. When I first jumped in the car at the practice day, I was slow at first and had to really get in my head how to drive the front-wheel-drive platform again. To be third and on the podium is just a wicked result for us, and an ideal way to start the year. I’m pushing for a win next event or very soon; I’m ready to do it.
What would you say is the big-picture goal that you’re working towards with all this?
To get into the FIA World Rallycross series. I know that it’s a big ask and there’s a lot to do to get there, but that’s what I’m aiming for. There’s some key steps [that] I need to make along the way — like jumping from here to the Supercar Lites (also known as ‘Super Lites’): space-frame-based four-wheel-drive non-turbo cars.
Then, after that, working towards supercars. There are a number of supercar classes, like the event we were just a part of, RallyX Nordic — they have their own super class, and the European Rallycross Championship also have a supercar class. I’d like to get there as soon as possible, as it’s a good pre-step before the FIA series.
It’s not going to happen in the next couple of years; I need to work my way through the motions to get there. My goal [for] now is to stay in Europe racing, focusing on these overseas events and less in New Zealand. I still love the New Zealand events, and all my fans and sponsors, but I really need to stay in Europe, doing more there to prove what I can do.
Has it been a challenge being in Europe, away from the support base you had competing at home?
It’s hard to be away from home, especially this first trip, which has been so long — I haven’t done this kind of thing before. We are a family-based team that is so close, so, this year, to go away and do it for myself, yeah, it’s been a big challenge. I miss everyone being here with me, and it can feel like I’m the only driver there at events who has no support, but I know [that] I have the biggest support team behind me back home following what I’m doing.
It’s fine, though, as I need to make it happen for myself, too. Obviously, I want them there in the future to be supporting me, but I do want to make this happen. You get nervous at times. Overall, though, I’m loving it, and I’ve learned a lot already because of it — I can’t wait for more. I’m really enjoying it on the other side of the world, and motorsport in Europe is crazy, so I definitely want more.
What would you say is your career highlight to date?
Breaking the 17-year-old record at The Ashley Forest Rallysprint. It was a big deal for the team, to break it on only our second year there, and then to break it two more times that same year, and going back the following year to win the event and break it again with a 55.3-second run — that was huge for us.
That moment really hit home when I got to the academy and I found out that one of the young boys here with me had seen the video way over in Sweden and that he couldn’t believe that it was me — that’s definitely my biggest highlight to date.
And, of course, being here at the academy, making the podium at my first proper rallycross event. It’s a little victory in my journey here overseas, but it feels awesome to have that kind of success straight away, being recognized and taken seriously in the sport — it’s a big highlight for where I want to head in my rallycross career.
Looks like you’re well on the right track to getting there, mate, and we wish you the best of luck for the rest of the academy season — thanks for taking the time to yarn with us.
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 259 — to get your grubby mitts on a copy, click the cover below: