It looks large and cumbersome. It just doesn’t look fast. Compared with the new and ‘grunty’ looking AP4 cars, it looks like it is missing a couple of baby seats in the back and the ‘misses’ in the front. However, that is not the case. Nelson’s Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn are currently leading the 2019 NZ Rally Championship having dominated and won both the Rally Otago and Whangarei rounds.
Having won the 2015 title in an older Subaru WRX STi, Hunt was given a production Subaru WRX STi from Subaru NZ to turn into a competitive rally car for the 2016 season. And that he did.
Well it didn’t start off too well with a huge crash at Rally Whangarei which made a big dent in his season, finishing 16th (Dave Holder won the 2016 title).
The following season proved better finishing third behind winner Andrew Hawkeswood with Matt Summerfield second.
2018 was, for most competitors, a hiding-to-nothing with Hayden Paddon cleaning up the title. Hunt came in second ahead of Josh Marston.
So what’s different about the 2019 season?
“We’ve gone through the car over the summer to make sure it is reliable,” replied Hunt. “We pulled it back to a bare shell and gone through it piece by piece. We are pretty happy with it. The only things we have changed are the gearbox and (brake) pads.
“We had trouble with the brakes in Otago. It was a bit of a learning curve running on pads that are RS5 which is for European R5 type cars (similar to the AP4 category).
“The subaru is a few hundred kgs heavier than them, so we had quite a bit of compository stuck to the rotors and lost the brakes 18kms into Stage two.
“The boys cleaned up the rotors and made sure they were all good to go. Braking in the afternoon was better without losing too much time.”
So what does Ben Hunt think of the need for speed or reliability?
“You have to be reliable to win a championship but we don’t go out there to just drive around the roads. Tony and I have fun driving fast and pushing it and that’s what we try to do, although it doesn’t always go to plan.
I put to him that his car just doesn’t look fast, so why is it so quick. It seems it goes back to what they learned driving a Ford Fiesta 2WD front wheel drive rally car.
“Tony and I have been in the Fiesta’s and learned to carry cornering speed. She’s (the subaru) a lot heavier than the other cars. There’s a lot more over-hang and length to it but I really love driving the Subaru.
“It is a production based car and you can go and drive one of these off the show room floor. I think everyone wonders how I keep up with the AP4 cars and I think it comes down to your average speed, (particularly) keeping the corner speed up.
“She may not be the fastest out of the corner but if you can be the same through the corner or if not better, you are going to be pretty quick.
“You have to be on it, using all the road.”
And he is!
If Paddon hadn’t been competing in the NZRC last season then Hunt and Rawstorn would have taken the title. With Paddon electing to only compete in the two Asia Pacific Rally Championship rounds this season (Rallies Otago and Whangarei), the Subaru pairing are well on their way to doing just that.