It’s been a grand year of firsts for two-time Valvoline D1NZ champion Darren Kelly. Just a few weeks ago he made his circuit racing, and now this coming November he’s set to have his first tilt at a rally event. Kelly will drive one of Hayden Paddon’s purpose-built Semog Cross Cars at the upcoming Repco Battle of Jacks Ridge. The diminutive racers are powered by a 95kW/75Nm bike engine sourced from a Suzuki GSXR750.
“It seems to have been quite the year for different disciplines in motorsport. I am really excited to get behind the wheel of something new,” Kelly said. “It is something I have wanted to do for quite some time – some off road or dirt style driving. I remember seeing one of these cars at the Leadfoot Festival and thinking at the time that it looks a lot of fun and how I would like to get behind the wheel of one so it is quite cool to be able to make that happen.”
Kelly’s circuit racing debut with The Heart of Racing in its current-generation Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 has been a success. Along with Factory Aston Martin driver Alex Riberas, Kelly won the opening round of the Carters Tyres South Island Endurance Series before then finishing second at the opening round of the Golden Homes North Island Endurance Series.
“Everything we try to do we do to the most competitive level – it is the natural instinct of any racer,” Kelly said. “I definitely have the goal of trying to mix it up with the best guys out there. It doesn’t matter whether you have a huge amount of experience or not we are always trying to think of how we can perform the best and go out and have as much fun as possible and do as well as we can.”
While competitive rallying, hillclimb, and super sprint events are new to Kelly, he does have some experience on gravel from his childhood. Included in that experience was time handling vehicles with similar highly strung engines.
“I had mainly just fun level off road go karts and things. My dad lived on a 500-acre farm, so we were always tearing around on off road go karts or quad bikes and that sort of stuff,” he said. “I have a bit of experience on dirt but not so much in something as wild as one of these things. I still ride as much as I can on a 250CC Kawasaki bike – limited to what I can do there with commitments to other motorsport.”
The Battle of Jacks Ridge takes place on November 15 in conjunction with the City of Auckland Rally. Shane van Gisbergen, Michael Pickens, Hayden Paddon, and Ben Hunt are among the big names confirmed for the event so far.