Hunt ready for another learning curve
When Nelson's Ben Hunt is negotiating the winding roads of Gisborne and Tolaga Bay this weekend, one question will be in the back of his mind - can I get faster?
The group N 2wd championship leader, with co-driver Tony Rawstorn, is defending his title in the Rally of Gisborne, the final round of the Rally New Zealand Championship. All signs point to this being the 24-year-old driver's last year in the 2wd class.
The holder of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy title and 2011's top 2wd driver thinks he may have taken the 2L front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta to the red line. It looks like time for a trade-in.
"I feel I'm starting to out-drive the little Fiesta sometimes and if you are out-driving a car, you are not really carrying as much speed as you were when you started. You are trying to push too hard just to get more out of it.
"We are looking at going to the group N 4wd class, which is the gold star, the top class in New Zealand, but we are still just seeing if we can do it.
"You would be jumping up into a different category and racing different drivers. It would be a new challenge and exciting but bloody expensive as well.
"I am in negotiations to purchase a new car to make the step up. We are looking at Chris West's Evo IX Mitsubishi."
Hunt wants to end his time in the 2wd class as a champion and will be driving today and tomorrow to secure back-to-back titles over a competitive distance of 295.03km. When the fifth round of the Brian Green Properties Rally NZ Championship revs up Hunt will be the frontrunner as he leads the group N 2wd championship standings, despite missing the first two rounds.
"Having to make the very difficult call to miss out the first two rounds of the 2012 championship after not securing the required financial backing to run a whole campaign, it's a real tribute to the team and my sponsors that believe in me to now be in a good position to defend."
Following a victory at Rally Otago in May, Hunt was the fastest 2wd driver at Rally New Zealand, a leg of the world circuit held in Auckland in June. The points gained in two wins from just two starts propelled him up the leader board.
After a couple of months to plan his course to the title, Hunt said a "measured" approach was best, believing the title wouldn't be decided until the final day of rallying in 2012.
"Last year we won every single rally and every single day but we still had to finish the last day of the last rally to win it.'
"It's very important to strike early and build up a time advantage on day one.
"This is the third time I've been in this position a cool calm head is required, you can't go flat out for the whole rally and expect to walk away with the championship.
"I'll be taking a measured approach to secure the points needed for a successful defence of the championship."
If the 2011 junior driver of the year can come through with another victory and claim the title, his time in the 2wd could be temporarily extended. Winning the Fiesta Sporting Trophy, for top Fiesta driver, will give Hunt a chance to go to the UK and compete in the Fiesta shootout, as he did in November last year.
A win in the shootout would mean a job on Ford's WRC team for a year, a vital career step. Hunt said that opportunity would be similar to one he earned in 2008, when he won the Rally New Zealand rising stars scholarship andhad the use of a fully-prepared car for the 2009 season.
He said the connection that awarded him the scholarship was still providing opportunities and this week that got him behind the seat of the Toyota GT 86 in an exhibition of the new production model. A bit of fun before the hard slog starts, the dust and the sweeping corners.