Rhianon Gelsomino says she will need to play the “big, big sister or aunty” role to Lia Block as the pair embark on their first American Rally Association season together.
After six rallies behind the wheel of a front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta R2T, 16-year-old Block is stepping up to a rear-wheel-drive Subaru BRZ for the 2023 season, beginning on this weekend’s 100 Acre Wood Rally (March 17/18).
Block has tested the car at DirtFish Rally School as well as in the Missouri area ahead of the rally alongside her mom, Lucy Block, who will campaign a Ford Fiesta Rally3 alongside new co-driver Alex Gelmsonio.
“Lia’s definitely a talent,” said Rhianon Gelsomino.
“I was here at DirtFish the other day doing some testing with her – first time driving rear-wheel-drive, last year she was in a front wheel-drive R2, so it’s going to be a big change, but she wants to learn front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and then move into four-wheel-drive so it’s going to be really, really exciting.
“Being from a motorsport family myself I’m really excited to be involved in the Block family racing.”
But Gelsomino is aware that given Lia’s age and the anticipated media attention on her, she will need to “shelter” her driver at times.
“I’ve got a very different role this year,” Gelsomino explained.
“I was a PE teacher before I took up this full-time so back when Ken and I made the deal I think he was thinking I was the perfect person to be sitting next to his daughter.
“Obviously we’ve had some sad news at the start of the year but I’m really excited that Lia’s decided to continue racing and I can’t wait to be that person beside her mentoring her.
“Alex and I have spent a lot of time with the Blocks in the last couple of months and we’ve been discussing the pressure,” Gelsomino added.
“The kid went from 199,000 followers on Instagram, which is already a lot, to nearly 800,000 in a week after Ken passed away.
“So there’s a lot of pressure as her dad was the amazing person he was in motorsport and the car industry and all those sorts of things, and she’s the oldest of the children coming up and a lot of people wanted to follow her to see which way she’d go.
“So for me in my role it’s going to be really important that we focus on the important things like writing pacenotes and focusing on her skills in the drivers’ seat – where can we be making up time, where can we be improving every rally?
“So I think I’m going to have to shelter her a little bit. We have parc exposés in America where we have a lot of people turn up and I think there’s going to be a lot of people there asking her questions and things like that, and one of my roles would be to get her focused in the right area and shelter here where I need to and I think take on that big, big sister, auntie Rhianon role.”
This weekend’s 100AW Rally comprises 17 stages totalling 115.2 miles of action.
It’s an event Lia’s late father Ken won more times than anybody, claiming victory no less than seven times.
Gelsomino won it back in 2021 alongside Travis Pastrana in their championship-winning year for Subaru.