Hunt storms home to win Otago NZRC
Ben Hunt bettered Dylan Turner across Sunday’s seven stages to claim victory in the opening round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship in Otago.
Subaru driver Hunt demolished Turner’s 11.5 second overnight lead on the opening stage of Sunday morning and never looked threatened as he went one better than last year and earned top step on the podium at Rally Otago.
“It was an awesome weekend,” Hunt said. “We have been second at Rally Otago a few times.
“The car ran faultlessly all weekend and the three or four things we have been trying – some of it worked and some of it didn’t so we know now.
“It is a fantastic way to start the NZRC and I am looking forward to Whangarei now.”
Turner was thrilled with second place in the Audi and got his title campaign off to a terrific start by banking a big haul of points.
The Ford Fiesta AP4 of Phil Campbell finished third in a perfect display of steady and measured driving. The Tauranga product didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and demonstrated that he will be a genuine factor in this season’s championship fight.
Andrew Hawkeswood finished fourth in his Mazda with Josh Marston fifth in the Holden Barina while Matt Summerfield recovered from trouble on Saturday to earn sixth in his Mitsubishi Mirage.
Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX8) claimed overall 2WD honours with a superb drive to head off good friend Regan Ross (Ford Escort) by 52 seconds while four-time NZRC champion Bruce Herbert was third in his Mitsubishi Lancer EX Turbo. Van Klink had to overcome a small deficit after trailing Ross heading into Sunday but powered away on the stages north of Dunedin.
“Yesterday we thought it was a seven out of 10 and today was probably a 10 out of 10,” Van Klink said. “We came out this morning and gave it everything we had and the car was brilliant, Dave [co-driver Dave Neill] was brilliant and I was pretty good.”
Van Klink and Neill took honours in the Open 2WD battle from Herbert and Bevan Parker’s Mitsubishi while Irish internet sensation Frank Kelly and daughter Lauren were third in their Baby Blue Ford Escort.
Ross and Samantha Gray won the Historic 2WD category in their Ford Escort from Jeff Judd and Sarah Brennan (Ford Escort).
Mike Sheehan and Glenn Goldring claimed victory in the FIA Group N front wheel drive class in their Ford Fiesta.
Jack Hawkeswood was awarded the Dunlop Drive of the Rally for his stunning debut in his Mazda AP4. He was running as high as fourth before mechanical failure ended his run late on Sunday.
Australian driver Brendan Reeves was given the Hella Moment for his alternator failure late on Saturday that saw him lose the lead of the rally and make it a two-horse race on Sunday between Hunt and Turner.
WRC star Hayden Paddon cruised to the overall rally victory but is not contesting the NZRC championship this season.
“Hayden is a class act and it is awesome to have him at the event because it really pushes us and pushes everyone,” Hunt said.
The championship heads north next month with the International Rally of Whangarei on May 3-5.