Ben Hunt has survived a throttle issue and some treacherous conditions to win the Kennedy Park Resort Rally Hawke’s Bay and boost his chances in the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship.
Hunt struggled earlier in the day to match the pace of Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen but inherited the lead on stage four when the latter slid off the road.
The two-time NZRC champion once again showcased his ability to drive to the conditions as he safely brought the Skoda New Zealand Fabia R5 home with a 42.4 second advantage over the impressive Ari Pettigrew.
He heads to the double-header Repco Rally New Zealand rounds trailing Hayden Paddon by 24 points.
Pettigrew, in his first full season in a 4WD car overcame a drive shaft drama on the opening loop to consistently set impressive stage times in the Manukau Auto Centre Holden Barina AP4.
He lies third in the championship standings – 22 points further adrift.
Matt Summerfield picked up his second podium in succession to finish third in the Top Line Mitsubishi Mirage AP4, taking advantage of a final stage spin by Raana Horan.
Horan took home fourth place in the Generator Rental Services Skoda Fabia R5 while Jack Hawkeswood (Toyota Gazoo NZ Yaris AP4) edged local star Grant Blackberry (Mitsubishi EVO X) for fifth place.
Van Gisbergen wowed the field with his remarkable pace on the opening three stages of the day – winning all three in his Supercheap Auto Skoda Fabia R5. But he slid off the road in a very tricky piece of road early in stage four.
In trying to get reverse, he damaged the gearbox and had to temporarily withdraw before his team put in a spare gearbox at service and he was able to finish the event.
Robbie Stokes (Team Hutchinson Ford Fiesta AP4) made a mistake on the second stage of the day and dropped a heap of time trying to get his car back on the road. He set a blistering time on stage six to win the power stage before crashing heavily on the final stage of the day as the rain returned.
Anthony Jones claimed overall 2WD honours in his Ford Escort as he comfortably won the head-to-head battle with Shane Murland (Ford Escort) in the Historic class.
Dylan Thomson (Ford Fiesta) grabbed victory in the NZRC 2WD class after inheriting first place when Jordan Grant (Suzuki Swift) made a mistake on the final stage. Thomson was second overall 2WD as well.
Charlie Evans had been in a ding-dong battle with Thomson but had to retire his Honda Civic late in the day.
Brent Taylor cruised to victory in the Open 2WD class in his Toyota FT86 – good enough for third overall 2WD.
David Sievers (Subaru) continued his strong season with victory in the Rally Challenge 4WD class as he led home Dave Ollis (Subaru) and Bryn Smith (Mitsubishi).
Dan Alexander won the Rally Challenge 2WD category in his Toyota Starlet, finishing ahead of Sam Byrne (Mitsubishi Lancer) and Jono Shapley (Toyota Vitz).
The championship takes a two-month break now until the double-header round at Repco Rally New Zealand in late September.