by Garrick Knight
It’s been a whirlwind six months for New Zealand’s most promising junior driver, Sarah O’Reilly.
After a thrilling week of competition against the best of her peers from here and in Australia, she was crowned the Hanley Formula Australasian Junior Driving Champion at Alexandra Park in Auckland on Friday.
It comes just five months after she secured the New Zealand title at Addington during the winter.
The attention and fanfare that comes with such accomplishments has proved daunting for the quietly-spoken teenager from Rakaia.
And it’s fair to say having a virtually unassailable lead for the past 24 hours weighed heavily on her shoulders.
“I woke up a couple of times last night because I was so nervous,” she said.
“But I was trying not to overthink it. They told me last night what I said to do in the last race to stay in front so I was just focused on that.”
After reining M T Pockets in to fifth place – enough to secure the title – she finally let herself enjoy the moment, joined by her horseman father, Gerard, and mum, Jane.
“It’s pretty amazing, I can’t believe it. I didn’t expect any of this.
“I was just happy to drive 20 winners last season.”
Gerard taught her everything she knows, she reckons, but she made special mention of another lady driver who has become a mentor and role model for her.
“Sam Ottley has been really good to me. She’s been there for me since my very first workout drive.”
With the two big goals already ticked off her ‘to-do’ list, O’Reilly has a rather modest target moving forward.
“I just want to keep going the way I am, keep driving winners and, hopefully, beat last season’s total.”
One thing’s for sure – she’s a lifer in the game.
“I just want to keep driving as much as I can for the rest of my life.”
Sydney’s Cam Hart finished second after a very hot and cold series where he drove the first three winners only to have his next two drives pulled up without taking any serious part.
O’Reilly’s fellow Cantabrian, Sheree Tomlinson, who won the final heat with The Paua Diver, rounded out the podium finishers, unable to defend the title she won 12 months ago.