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INTERVIEW: RHIANON GELSOMINO – THE FAMILY BUSINESS

Rhianon Gelsomino co-drives for Ryan Millen in the US

Rhianon Gelsomino co-drives for Ryan Millen in the US

THERE HAVE been a lot of Frequent Flyer points for Rhianon Gelsomino in recent years.

Wherever she is in the world rallying royalty surrounds her. Husband Alex Gelsomino is Ken Block’s co-driver. Brothers Brendan and Nathan Reeves are well-known on the local scene, while her driver is Ryan Millen, of the New Zealand rallying and racing dynasty.

Now she calls the USA home, competing in three series for Toyota in a 2SWD RAV4. AA caught up with her for a chat.

The Toyota RAV4 that Ryan Millen and Rhianon Gelsomino compete in

The Toyota RAV4 that Ryan Millen and Rhianon Gelsomino compete in

Q: The obvious question first; why America?
A: Alex and I are married and he lives in America!

He is full-time with Ken Block, so since we got married, this is where we are based. Last year we spent a lot of time in Europe and it depends a lot on where the work is.

Q: We don’t know much about the rally seen in the USA. Tell us about it.
A: My brother and won the 2WD class here in 2013 and that is when I started in American in rallying. It is different to Australia in that they are allowed to have World Rally Cars over here. There are, obviously, rules against that in Australia.

It is more open here. Ken and Alex used to be in their World Rally Car; Subaru used to have a World Rally Car. It’s different.

There is one manufacturer involved in Australia and that is Subaru, with Molly Taylor. Over here we have Subaru, with David Higgins and Travis Pastrana. There is Toyota, with Ryan and I. There is not a huge amount of difference, but Honda is here, not in a big way.

Rhianon Gelsomino's husband navigates for Ken Block

Rhianon Gelsomino’s husband navigates for Ken Block

Q: What is the level of fan support like?
A: We get a lot of fan support through. Every time they do a rally there is what the calla Parc Expose, and that is always open to the fans. Because they have big names, like Pastrana and Block, you get a lot of fans. They get up close and personal with people who have millions of followers on social media. So we get a lot of spectators here, compared to Australia.

My brother and I won three events in Australia last year and none of those events had many spectators. Here, the big names bring in more people, they want to see those drivers.

Q: What is the attraction for manufacturers in the 2WD category?
A: For Toyota, they obviously want to market the RAV4 2WD. It is a big seller in the American market, they prefer that to have a Corolla-sized car as a World Rally Car, which they could do.

The RAV4 is actually an automatic! It is virtually what someone could go out and buy. You put it in the stages and they like to see how well it handles the rough. Rallying is perfect for showing how well the car handles those conditions, rather than putting it on the track.

Q: Teaming up with the Millens, such a dynasty in the NZ and the USA.
A: Yes. Ryan’s dad Rod did a lot of rallying internationally, particularly well-known in both countries. Rhys did a of rallying too and now Ryan is making his way. Rallying and racing is in the family – and in my family!

It’s really great that two rallying families have come together. When they contacted me last year, it is great to think that we would be working with another family.

Ryan is in America, so am I, but Rod is in New Zealand and my family is all in Australia. I think that I am the only Australian competing here so it is nice to have the Aussie flag on the car.

Q: Is this the long-term plan, to stay in the US?
A: My dream is to be in the World Rally Championship. Last year I did a round in the Scottish Rally Championship, in the New Zealand Rally Championship, in the Australian Rally Championship and I was busy all over the world. This is what I do full-time and whatever opportunities come up, I grab them.

Toyota is great to work with, that side of it is really good. Ryan is new to rallying it is great to help him develop.

You always think about the World Championship but you need to focus on what you are doing every day.

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