Hayden Paddon may be the big name in New Zealand rallying, but Ben Hunt is quickly establishing himself as second on that list.
Hunt powered to victory on round three of the New Zealand Rally Championship in Canterbury last weekend, his third win from three rounds this year.
In a masterful display, Hunt won all seven of the rally’s stages, and now has a commanding 42-point championship lead as he aims for a second national title.
What makes his dominance even more impressive is that he’s doing it in a Subaru WRX that is heavier and more cumbersome than the nimble AP4 and R5 spec cars that he is competing against.
His talent is unquestioned, but his speed in the Subaru is raising more than a few eyebrows.
Without the presence of Paddon to take the limelight, Hunt and co-driver, Tony Rawstorn, were able to shine brightly, leading the field away from the start and never being seriously challenged.
“I think this is one of the few times we’ve ever clean-swept the stage wins, so that’s always an awesome feeling,” Hunt said.
“Playing the long day back in my head last night, made it hard to go to sleep! There were times when there were only a few seconds between us and the other teams, which made for some great battles throughout the rally.”
Next best at the Canterbury Rally was last year’s event winner, Josh Marston, who proved that the Holden Barina AP4 still has plenty to offer.
Highly regarded youngster, Job Quantock, impressed too, taking third place in the Skoda Fabia AP4 that was previously driven by Glenn Inkster.
Quantock’s career has levelled out over recent times after a prize drive in the Hyundai New Zealand i20 AP4 didn’t produce much success. His perseverance – and in a car that has had reliability problems in the past – bodes well for the future.
18-year old Jack Hawkeswood was another star performing, writing his own pacenotes for the first time and finishing fifth outright in his Mazda 2 AP4.
Also announced last week was that Hawkeswood will contest Victoria’s Eureka Rally in August, a round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship’s Pacific Cup.
Hawkeswood – and possibly his father, Andrew – will also be heading to China in late October for the APRC’s grand final, a huge experience for the youngster.
Hayden Paddon will also enter the Eureka Rally, driving a new Hyundai i20 R5 that has been imported into Australia by Walkem Motorsport.
Paddon drove the car in Tasmania last week and was impressed by his initial time in the R5, although it’s unsure whether the drive is a one-off, or whether further rallies in Australia are on the cards down the track.
It continues an exciting time for New Zealand rallying, with the national series at an almost all-time high level, plenty of young drivers leading the charge of the next generation, and still talk of a Hayden Paddon return to the WRC at some stage in the near future.
Round of the NZ Rally Championship is now just three weeks away, with the Timaru-based South Canterbury Rally on June 22.