Hunting down rally victories

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 12:00 11/04/2014
Kina Beach Vineyard.
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CHEERS: Nelson’s Ben Hunt, left, and Tony Rawstorn celebrate their win on the Daybreaker Rally in Manawatu at the finish in the Feilding town square last June.

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He may be a rally driver but Ben Hunt likes the taste of champagne, and he is keen for more.

The New Zealand rally season starts in Whangarei this weekend with the VINZ International Rally of Whangarei, the opening round of the 2014 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.

Nelson's Hunt is hoping to build on the success of a breakthrough debut 4WD rally season last year when he and co-driver Tony Rawstorn won their maiden overall rally victory at the Daybreaker Rally, in Manawatu in June.

The Hunt Motorsport duo also finished runner-up twice and third twice in the New Zealand Rally Championship, and he is excited about the prospect of turning those podium finishes into rally victories. "Being on the podium, second or third was still pretty awesome, but we won't be mucking round out there, we will be pushing for more victories and taking it to our main rivals.

"It's hard to back up from a season like that but if you have consistency, I think you can back up."

In the 2013 season Hunt made the switch from 2WD to 4WD at the start of the season, and was still crowned national junior champion and pushed the veteran drivers, just missing out on an overall top-three placing.

Now used to driving the Winger-Total Oils Subaru STi, Hunt has gone for a little more power after racing in the old Group N setup, while other drivers had about 90 more horsepower to call on. While Hunt doesn't believe more horsepower makes the team, he was looking forward to testing it out tomorrow.

"We have gone for a bigger restrictor and we have about another 30 horsepower this year and changed a few other little things. It might have a bit more punch down low and start boogeying a bit earlier.

"We shied away from running the biggest restrictor that the other teams will run. We don't believe that power is the key. It is the whole package, the setup and how you get the power to the ground."

Starting from Whangarei, 160km north of Auckland, this weekend's event uses roads internationally appraised by drivers who campaigned on them during previous rounds of the World Rally Championship.

The journey uses 220.87km of fast flowing gravel-covered road broken in to 14 special stages in both the Far North and Whangarei districts.

Heading the lineup are 2013 APRC champions Gaurav Gill (India) and Glenn Macneall (Australia), who are joined this year by reigning European Rally Championship winners Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic) and Pavel Dresler (Czech Republic) in a two-car factory-backed Skoda operation. Other entries include Australian pairing Mark Pedder and Claire Dowling in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, while a number of 2WD cars, including a Renault Clio, Honda Civic and Mazda Demio, will be competing for international honours.

Adding to the illustrious list of entries for this year's Rally of Whangarei will be a group of 39 Kiwi teams also out to measure themselves.

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- Nelson

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