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Clendon fit and focused

Promising Masterton rally driver Jackson Clendon is fit, focused, and keen to put into practice the lessons learned from a high-speed crash that brought his 2022 national championship campaign to a sudden halt.

Clendon had turned heads with victory in last year’s Rally of Whangarei in his first outing in his recently imported Ford Fiesta Rally4 and was competing in June’s Rally South Canterbury when he misheard a pace note and took a corner too fast, rolling off the road and slamming the brakes on his championship hopes.

The 20-year-old starts his 2023 campaign in this weekend’s Rally of Otago, one of only two rallies to be contested over two days, and says he is determined to learn from the crash that wrecked last year’s championship run.

“There were a lot of things going on with sponsors and finances and stuff the week before, [not] getting proper sleep and nutrition and fitness were a big one, too,” Clendon said.

“That all helps with your concentration, and that was the reason for the crash last year. There was a lack of concentration, and all of those things I’ve tried to tick the boxes this year, so that doesn’t happen again.”

Clendon subsequently attended a week-long boot camp at the NZ Elite Motorsport Academy at Otago University, which he said taught him a lot about fitness and improving his diet, and that has been his main focus over the summer.

“I’ve lost 10kg over the off-season, getting prepared, and I started going to the gym and have taken up running. That was all through the Elite Motorsport Academy – they helped me get into the gym and get a programme going.

“Nutrition, I’ve changed it a lot, and it’s a bit different to how tradie diets are with pies and energy drinks and stuff, but I’ve really sorted it out this year, and I’m eating quite healthily now,” the apprentice builder said.

Getting the 2WD FIA Fiesta Rally4 back on the road has also proved a mission for Clendon and his team, with the specialised parts difficult to source in Europe followed by delays in getting the parts to New Zealand.

“It was super hard to get parts, and on time too. We ordered everything body panel-wise in October last year, and it only just turned up last month, so it’s been a long time since it was ordered and then to get the car into the panelbeater and get it done.

“The last couple of weeks has been a big push to get it ready, just sorting out a few issues, and this week we’re just giving it the final touch-up ready for the rally.

“We haven’t tested it or driven it since, but from what we know, it should be fine. There could be a few things that pop up that are little things, but overall mechanically, it’s 100 per cent.

Clendon said it’s vital that he and co-driver Tanya Cresswell from Woodville adapt quickly and score good points from Otago and the second round, the Rally of Whangarei, with those rounds comprising almost half the points for the championship.

“This round is mainly just to finish. I think the pace will be there, but I don’t know how long it will take to come back. We’ll just keep going as normal, but we would like to take the two-wheel drive national title – that’s the goal.

“In terms of confidence, I feel really good, physically and mentally, going into the car, so it should all click, and I know that we have the pace from last year, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Clendon competed in last year’s Rally of Otago in a leased Toyota Vitz but is itching to try out the more powerful Fiesta on the fast gravel roads, starting on Saturday on the roads in north Otago.

“We got a high-speed look at the roads last year, so it will be good to see how we go in a competitive car. Last year was heaps of fun, but having a bit more power now and going faster should be way better,” he said.

One of the highlights of the championship could be the decision of Australian Supercar champion Shane van Gisbergen to contest four rounds, starting with the Rally of Whangarei in an Audi S3 AP4.

“It’s super cool to have him there, he’s the guy in New Zealand, and everyone loves to have him at rallies.

“To go from top Supercars driver and do what he does at circuit racing, and then he comes to rallies, and he’s arguably the best driver apart from Hayden [Paddon] in New Zealand, so it’s insane how good he is.”

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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