A star-studded field will line up for the final round of this year’s New Zealand Rally Championship, the Rally of Waitomo this weekend.
It’s been an interesting year for the NZRC, with Hayden Paddon coming out of the blocks early at the Otago Rally and leaving everybody in his wake.
Admittedly, Paddon wasn’t registered for championship points, but it again showed the gap between the best and rest.
For the remainder of the year, it’s been the Ben Hunt show (see main picture), with the Subaru steerer winning every round to date and showing a clean pair of heels to the rest of the NZRC hopefuls.
In some ways this is the reverse of what is supposed to be happening.
Hunt, as credentialed as he may be, is driving a big, heavy Subaru that, in theory, should be out-classed by its R5 and AP4 rivals.
But that hasn’t been the case, and it leaves you wondering just where the NZRC is placed, and how competitive the local stars really are.
In Australia, the home-built Toyota Yaris AP4 of Harry Bates has been the pick of the bunch, leaving Molly Taylor’s Subaru WRX in its dust, but that hasn’t been the case in New Zealand. Even so, there are R5 drivers who are yet to show their full potential.
Josh Marston, Dylan Turner, Phil Campbell, Raana Horan, Kingsley Jones and others have been unable to get near Hunt’s base on a regular basis in the NZRC, despite driving smaller, rally-built specials.
There are variations in every event and there’s always reasons why some cars are faster than others, but that nobody has been able to challenge Ben Hunt must be a worry for those in more superior machinery.
Good cars don’t always guarantee good results, but the AP4 and R5 cars in the NZRC have been around long enough now that they should be achieving event wins – or at least challenging for them.
Next year’s Rally New Zealand could be a real eye-opener in terms of how competitive local rallying really is, and whether any of the current crop are driving at anywhere near a world level.
With any luck some of Australia’s front-runners will also head east for the event, and a real Trans Tasman battle can take place.
Only then may we see at what level New Zealand rallying is really at.