Subaru of New Zealand Brand Ambassador and 2015 NZ Rally Champion Ben Hunt will be driving this Subaru WRX STi in the 2016 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship. PHOTOS: GEOFF RIDDER
Subaru Brand Ambassador and 2015 national rally champion Ben Hunt is about the embark on the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) this weekend at the Drivesouth Rally of Otago in a new Subaru WRX STi – a reward from Subaru of New Zealand for his promising career so far.
Now based in Auckland but a Nelson boy at heart, he was nearly lost to another sport before rallying staked a claim on his talents. Hunt (27) was an avid tennis player – on the court every day from six years old until his early twenties. He envisaged becoming a professional and a scholarship in the United States was even on the cards.
After competing in local autocrosses, Hunt crewed for another driver at the Otago Rally and “really got the bug,” he says. A Toyota Starlet was duly purchased and Hunt’s first event was the 2008 Rally of Nelson. The tennis racket was out and rallying was in.
In 2009 Hunt went on to win the inaugural Rally New Zealand Rising Stars scholarship, then followed that achievement up with two national 2WD titles and a junior championship trophy in 2011 and 2012.
Stepping up to an All Wheel Drive vehicle in 2013, Hunt purchased the ex-Emma Gilmour Subaru WRX and finished fourth in the NZRC. The next year he moved up to second overall.
“I have always dreamt of rallying a Subaru as all my childhood heroes like Colin McRae and Possum Bourne were driving them,” Hunt says.
Last year, after winning three of the six NZRC rounds and gaining top five finishes in the other three events, Hunt was crowned the 2015 New Zealand Rally Champion. Subaru of New Zealand came on board to offer Hunt the ultimate recognition of his victory – the use of a brand-new Subaru WRX STi.
Hunt will travel the length and breadth of the country to the best rally roads on offer over the next seven months competing in the 2016 NZRC rounds. His Hunt Motorsport team will visit Otago, Whangarei, Canterbury, Gisborne, Coromandel and a yet to be confirmed final round.
A standard production model Subaru WRX STi was supplied with a roll cage fitted, and from here Hunt has had it prepared to his own specifications. Countless hours have gone into building the high performance rally car and the end result comes after some dedicated teamwork.
Selected last year as a Subaru of New Zealand Brand Ambassador, Hunt – a heavy diesel mechanic - has been working alongside a (blue) army of helpers, who have turned the Subaru from a road-going STi into a national rally championship-defending machine.
“I have been overwhelmed by all the support there has been for this project. From the mechanical, engineering and fabrication side of the build, to the help supplied from friends and family, there have been plenty of hours poured in to get this Subaru ready for round one of the New Zealand Rally Championship this weekend in Otago,” Hunt says.
The last five months have also involved him getting key sponsors on board with major sponsors Subaru, Hydraulink, Motul and Gull, along with many others, making the whole process possible.
“It is humbling to have such dedicated support from both the sponsors and the behind the scenes crew, who generously committed their time and passion for the sport we love. It is this comradeship that makes rallying the infectious sport it is,” Hunt says.
The Subaru WRX STi has gone from a production car, to a bare shell, to a rally-ready, factory-based STi with added suspension, gearbox and engine modifications to ensure it has the suitability for rally conditions.
First up on Hunt’s thank you card list is Subaru of New Zealand for supplying a car designed and built for the purpose.
Subaru of New Zealand Managing Director Wallis Dumper says there are not many factory cars available that can provide both the safety and performance that rallying requires.
“You only need to look at history to see Subaru is the choice of winners. Since 2001, eleven of the New Zealand Rally Championships have been won in a Subaru vehicle.”
Hunt says special mention also needed to go to the extended Ben Hunt Motorsport team.
“This includes my co-driver Tony Rawstorn, and all the others who have generously donated time away from family and partners during the build process. The team have produced an exceptional car that I am very proud to campaign.”
“Paul and Bryan Hayton from Possum Bourne Motorsport also deserve huge credit for their integral roles in the build process, including the roll cage fabrication, transmission assembly and production of custom made composite parts.”
“It has been a rewarding exercise to be a part of a brand new car build, and to drive it at a recent test was absolutely awesome.”
“It is amazing to drive car with such strong performance right out of the box. After the 50km shakedown I grew a lot of confidence and quickly became comfortable in the new surroundings. It is just such a great package and I’m confident that the reliability of having a Subaru will see us come into our own over the next three rallies,” Hunt says.
Mr Dumper commended Hunt, his team and all the people who have helped this Subaru rally car take shape, for all their hard work.
“While Subaru may provide the best platform to construct a production-based rally car from, it is the people involved in its build that will determine whether it is a successful championship contender or not. We believe that Ben has surrounded himself with a really strong field of expertise to get the most out of this WRX STi.”
“Subaru of New Zealand will be following Ben’s season with interest and we look forward to seeing the new Subaru WRX in action for the first time this weekend,” Mr Dumper says.
Hunt looks forward to continuing his relationship with his backers over the 2016 season.
“It’s really exciting to be working with existing sponsors and new sponsors that have come on board. My goal for this season is to keep building a good relationship with them and show them how amazing rallying is as a sport,” Hunt says.
The Drivesouth Rally of Otago’s 17 stages over the two-day event will provide Hunt a perfect opportunity to become better acquainted with his new Subaru WRX STi.
One hundred entries have been received for this weekend’s 40th anniversary Otago Rally, and the Dunedin-based event has received more entries than any Otago Rally in the past 30 years.
Event spokesman, Roger Oakley, says the organisers are delighted with the high numbers.
“Entries are up in every area, rallying really seems to be on the rise. It’s especially pleasing to see the strength of the national championship field. New cars are being built, and there is real depth to the field. Spectators are in for a treat,” he says.
2016 BRIAN GREEN PROPERY GROUP NZ RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
- Round 1 – Rally of Otago April 8 - 10
- Round 2 – International Rally of Whangarei April 30 – May 1
- Round 3 – Rally of Canterbury June 4 - 5
- Round 4 – Rally Gisborne July 2
- Round 5 – Rally Coromandel August 20
- Round 6 – TBC
Ben Hunt Motorsport is grateful for support in the 2016 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship from:
Subaru of New Zealand, Hydraulink, Motul Oil, Gull NZ Fuel, Dunlop, CL Brakes, Reiger suspension, Bluebridge, MTS Finance, The Body Shop, Wurth, Possum Bourne Motorsport, Winger Subaru, E & H Motors, Entech, Neil Allport Motorsport, Prodiesel Engineering Ltd, Vernon Developments and Kennedy Cams.