While the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship fuelled by Gull and driven by Dunlop has taken an almost three-month break, Subaru driver Ben Hunt has been keeping his rally skills sharp.
He heads to this Saturday’s Mahindra Goldrush Rally of Coromandel fresh from competing in two club rallies in the North and South Island.
First up was the Rally of the North in June, where Hunt partnered with co-driver Jeff Cress for the event and took up an older Group A-spec Subaru that his Hunt Motorsports team had been getting rally-really over the previous eight months.
His NZRC Subaru WRX STi was still being worked on after Hunt and his usual co-driver Tony Rawstorn had accomplished their highest placing this season – runners-up at the Lone Star Rally of Canterbury, earlier in June.
Hunt says he enjoyed the Rally of the North and had a “good battle all day and stayed close to the top of the time sheets,” eventually finishing fourth.
Next up was Hunt’s “home” event – Rally Nelson, as the now Auckland-based driver grew up in the region. He was determined “to give it a proper crack at winning the event out right,” and had the machinery to do so, campaigning his Subaru WRX STi.
This club-style event doesn’t run on pace notes and is driven “blind” but Hunt and Rawstorn’s long-term relationship in the car had them confidently tackling the stages and achieving the best possible outcome.
“We finished the event in first place – winning by a margin of a minute, giving our 2016 Subaru STi its maiden win. To do it at a home event made it really special for the team,” Hunt says.
This result, along with the long break between the third and fourth NZRC rounds, has allowed the Hunt Motorsports team to push forward with developments on the Subaru, leaving Hunt excited about what it can achieve among the other championship front-runners this Saturday.
He is sitting in fifth overall in the championship – well within striking distance of the top spots with three rounds still left to run.
“This year the Coromandel event has been flipped backwards. All the stages are familiar and have been used in previous years and now it’s all in reverse. It brings a unique challenge of re-writing notes for all the same corners. It’s good to have the whole field even. We’re all seeing the roads for the first time in this direction,” Hunt says.
The organisational team behind Rally New Zealand, combined with the Thames-Coromandel District Council has based the event out of Whitianga. The rally will be centred at the Mercury Bay Sports Multi-Sport Park, which will host the Rally HQ and the service park. The 56 teams will start leaving at 7am and will finish from about 4.30pm at Blacksmith Lane in Whitianga.
Competition will take place over 135 kilometres of special stages on forestry and public roads around the Mercury Bay region, some of which were last used for rallying on the 1979 International Motogard Rally of NZ.
Hunt and his team will be involved in some promotion work this Friday morning from 10am at the Gull Whitianga service station.