Rhys Pinter, 21, is the youngest driver in the Australian Rally Championship. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
After a brain haemorrhage forced him to give up Australian rules football, Canberra driver Rhys Pinter is about to become the youngest competitor in the Australian Rally Championship.
The 20-year-old has flourished behind the wheel, scraping together the money along with the help of family and sponsors to get a drive in this weekend's National Capital Rally.
It is the first of three or four rounds of the ARC that Pinter will compete in this year, with financial constraints meaning he is unable to take part in all six rounds.
Rhys Pinter. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
On the advice of rally legend Neal Bates, Pinter has stepped up to the senior category this year, doing shift work, overtime and weekends to put together the funds to buy a Ford Fiesta worth more than $50,000 from fellow Canberra competitor Adrian Coppin.
Pinter took up motor sport only three years ago when a serious head injury during pre-season training with the Tuggeranong Hawks forced him to give the game away.
He was on the verge of playing for the Sydney Swans reserves as a top-up player in the North East Australian Football League when he copped a knee in the side of the head.
''I couple of days later I was talking to my dad in the kitchen and I nearly collapsed, I got some scans done and they found a small haemorrhage,'' Pinter said.
''The doctor told me not to play the rest of the season, but I came back after 10 weeks and had another head clash. It was getting harder to come back from and I liked driving cars, so I took that up instead.''
Pinter is doing the Junior Australian Rally Championship for competitors under 26 and is still competing against the senior drivers of the ARC. He has won three state championships in the past two years in a Hyundai Excel, but felt it was time to make the switch to the national circuit.
Running a car in the ARC isn't a cheap operation.
It costs Pinter, who lives at home with his parents, about $8000 to $10,000 per round, depending whether any parts need replacing during a weekend. He has support from Damesa Industries and Southern Automotive Services after spending months chasing sponsors.
''There's not an endless trail of money,'' he said. ''I've done shift work, I've done overtime, a lot of weekend work and public holidays.
''It's tough, but when the lights go 3-2-1 and you're off, you know why you've made the sacrifices.''
Pinter is using the ARC as a stepping stone to competing in Europe within the next three to four years.
More than 80 competitors will take to the start line across several divisions, including the SUV rally challenge, the 4WD national road series, NSW rally championship and ACT regional rally series and the classic rally challenge.
Brendan Reeves from Victoria in a Mazda2 took early honours with the fastest time of 1:38.3 in Friday's Powerstage, ahead of defending champion Eli Evans (1:38.4) and Scott Pedder (1:39.0).
The first of eight stages on Saturday starts at 8.15am.