Subaru brand ambassador and New Zealand national rally champion Ben Hunt is ready to defend his title, although he will have a key team member missing at this weekend’s season-opening Rally of Otago.
It is not a mechanic from his Hunt Motorsport team, nor is it long-term co-driver Tony Rawstorn – it’s his wife Emma, who will stay home in Auckland looking after the Hunt’s new baby girl.
“I guess I’ll have to find somebody else to do my on-event social media for me. Having little Isadora means Emma is out for the first few rallies. She definitely enjoys coming along but the flipside is she gets to enjoy this special time with our daughter,” Hunt says.
Ben’s team had completed the customary down-to-the-bare-shell reconstruction of the Subaru WRX STi last year, before the 2020 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) was cancelled due to Covid-19. The Subaru has only been driven in November’s City of Auckland Rally and the Battle of Jacks Ridge, so its competition kilometres have been minimal leading into the Otago event, allowing him more time to spend with his little family.
Hunt likened this year’s preparation to slightly more than a between-rally workload.
After several months out of the car, he had a shakedown in the WRX last week and relished returning to going flat out on gravel.
‘‘It was so good to be back in the forest. I can’t wait for the Otago Rally. The Subaru felt amazing,’’ he says.
Hunt has a clear plan for the five-round NZRC.
‘‘Obviously, being the reigning champions, we are going in there to put our best foot forward. There are some great drivers and cars out there to compete against. We will go and be consistent and as fast as we can,’’ he said.
In his favour is the longevity of his co-driver, Nelson’s Tony Rawstorn, who returns for his 11th year calling the pace notes. The successful partnership has been well cemented since Hunt won the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars Scholarship in 2009. Since then, he and Rawstorn added the national 2WD championship, Junior National Rally Championship and the 2015 and 2019 NZRC driver’s and co-driver’s trophies to their collective cabinets.
They also contributed to Subaru winning the NZRC Manufacturer’s Trophy in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
The successful duo is excited about Otago’s wide-ranging road selection.
‘‘You have fast sections, crests and jumps. It’s like the New Zealand equivalent of Finland,’’ Hunt says.
As the defending champion, he has the badge of honour number one sticker on his Subaru. He and Rawstorn are among 49 teams contesting the NZRC component of the 298km, 14-stage rally.
The 2021 Otago Rally begins with a ceremonial opening in Dunedin’s Octagon this Friday from 5pm before two days of high-speed stages south of the city. A close to town spot to catch Hunt in action is at the city’s tarmac superstage on Anzac Avenue on Saturday from 3pm.
After Otago, the NZRC heads north to Whangarei in May. It returns to the South Island for Rally South Canterbury in June, then Hawke’s Bay in July and finishes at Coromandel in September.
Hunt is grateful to his sponsors who make the season possible for him and his team.
“It’s amazing to have the support from all our sponsors and we thank them for their loyalty. It feels great to keep building on our relationships and we look forward to what we can achieve together in 2021,” he concludes.
Hunt Motorsport thanks the following companies for their support in the 2021 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship: Subaru of New Zealand, Hydraulink, Motul Oil, Vantage Windows and Doors, Speedhub Motorsport, Winger Subaru, Hella NZ, Reiger suspension, Wurth, Hitech Motorsport, Hunt Diesel, Make Architects, Pagid Racing Brake Pads, Nuzest, SOS and Hammer King.
2021 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship
- April 16-18 Otago Rally
- May 14-16 International Rally of Whangarei
- June 19 Rally South Canterbury
- July 24 Rally Hawke’s Bay
- September 4 Rally Coromandel