Subaru brand ambassador Ben Hunt became the national rally champion in 2015 and he will be doing his best to claim that title back again by the end of this weekend’s Rally New Zealand.
He is in a good position to do so, currently in second place, only 10 points behind fellow Auckland-based driver Andrew Hawkeswood, going into this sixth and final round of the the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC). Subaru Impreza driver Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield, is one point behind Hunt, meaning that for the first time in 16 years there is a three-way fight for the national championship at the final event of the season.
There are a maximum of 44 points on offer - awarded to whoever wins each day of the rally; the rally overall and the power stage. Hunt will be aiming to win the event outright and claim as many points as possible along the way.
Based from the host city of Tauranga, Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn will contest the 14 special stages covering 280 kilometres over the two-day rally in Hunt’s Subaru WRX STi. This standard production model was built up into a rally car at the beginning of last season and has been developed by Hunt’s team into a fast, reliable contender. It continued the successful legacy Subaru rally cars have had over the years, with Hunt and Rawstorn winning the previous NZRC round, the Handy Rentals Hamilton Rally of Waitomo last month.
“This year was more about consolidating our knowledge of how to get the best performance out of the Subaru and getting it to the point of winning stages and rallies, which is what we have been able to achieve,” Hunt says.
“The last few rallies we have made some huge leaps forward,” he adds.
Rally New Zealand’s competitive action will start on Saturday morning with teams heading over the Kaimai ranges to the west coast and contesting eight stages covering 200 kilometres - based from a central service park at Raglan. The stages includes Te Akau, Te Hutewai and the iconic WRC Rally New Zealand signature test – the world renowned Whaanga Coast – 29 kilometres of winding gravel coastal road.
Leg two on Sunday is based from the ASB Baypark Stadium and takes in six special stages to the south of Tauranga including the 25 kilometre Manawahe test. A traditional favourite from Rally New Zealand events of the 1980s and 1990s, the road winds through farmland and around Lake Rotoma with the popular spectator vantage point at Helicopter corner. Rally New Zealand organisers have also combined with Motorsport Bay of Plenty to run a special stage in the TECT Park motorsport facility, in Ngawaro (on SH36 about half way between Tauranga and Rotorua) providing a number of great spectating opportunities for rally fans.
Despite the pressure being turned up this weekend, Hunt’s main goals will remain the same – to finish every stage and every rally this season. He knows he has the car, co-driver and team to repeat his victory from the previous NZRC round and his 2015 series win.
“I’m looking forward to rallying on some of the classic rally New Zealand WRC stages. Last time I drove them was in a 2WD car, so it will be awesome to have more traction and power in my All-Wheel Drive Subaru WRX STi,” Hunt says.
The Strand in Tauranga city will host a pre-event rally show and ceremonial start on Friday evening, providing fans the opportunity to get up close with the cars and stars.
The victory celebrations and podium presentations will be held on the finish ramp back at Baypark on Sunday afternoon where Hunt will be aiming to add his name to the Rally New Zealand trophy.
Subaru is also on track to win the Manufacturer’s Championship and currently holds 116 points. Mazda has 105, Ford 93, Mitsubishi 82 and Suzuki 71.