Ben Hunt claims maiden NZ rally championship victory
Subaru Impreza driver Ben Hunt was crowned New Zealand rally champion in Masterton on Saturday evening.
Hunt clinched the 2015 title at the Manawatu and Wairarapa finale on Saturday with a measured drive to fourth place.
He’d earlier won four of the previous five rounds and becomes the 20th different driver to put their name on the New Zealand Gold Star Rally Championship silverware since Rod Millen won the inaugural title in 1975.
Hunt (Subaru Impreza WRX STI) went into the final round with a commanding points lead and only the possibility of a non-finish would have put his title hopes at risk – and even that eventuality would have required second placed Phil Campbell (Tauranga) to win the final round in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9.
On the early morning stages near Pohangina those odds shortened even further. Hunt was in a steady seventh place but already nearly a minute ahead Campbell - who was having his pace hampered by a rear suspension vibration – after two stages.
The rally quickly became a battle between two emerging stars of the sport who have suffered some mixed fortunes in 2015.
Mt Maunganui’s David Holder (Lancer Evo8) won the opening stage but it was the pace shown by Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Subaru Impreza) through the 31km Ridge Rd stage that proved decisive.
Summerfield was fastest both times on the challenging stage that has featured many times on Manawatu Daybreaker events of the past. With four stages completed Summerfield had built a lead of 37.2secs as the rally departed the Manawatu region and headed to four afternoon stages near Eketahuna and Mauriceville.
Holder went on the attack winning stages five and six and was also faster than Summerfield again on stage seven. He slashed the lead of the Subaru driver by just 0.7secs going into a second run through the fast North Rd stage.
But a high-speed spin early in stage cost Holder about 20secs and Summerfield sealed his first national championship rally victory by a final margin of 23.4secs.
A solid third placing with a final stage win and second fastest times on four other occasions was claimed by Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour. It was the best result yet for Gilmour’s Suzuki Swift 4WD Maxi car.
Hunt was faster on the afternoon stages than he’d been during the morning and moved up the order to finish fourth. Former champ Geof Argyle (Feilding) was fifth in his Mitsubishi Lancer and Lance Williams (Te Aroha) finished sixth to claim points in his Subaru Impreza which secured the New Zealand Junior Rally title.
Campbell completed the rally in ninth place and sealed runner-up honours in the championship in his second year driving a 4WD turbo car.
Former champion Richard Mason (Subaru) was making an attempt to win his home rally for the ninth time after sitting out the rest of the season. He was in third position when his rally ended in stage four with mechanical problems.
The debut of the Ralliart NZ-built Mitsubishi Mirage Evo of Chris West saw some early teething problems and West was a temporary retirement on stage three. Returning for the afternoon stages the new car showed promise with West posting a fourth and fifth fastest stage time.
Finishing in tenth place, Kaiapoi’s Marcus van Klink (Mazda RX-7) secured a third NZRC historic title and was also sixth overall in the championship.
2015 Brian Green Property Group NZ Rally Championship - Final championship points standings:
1 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru, 152pts
2 Phil Campbell (Tauranga) Mitsubishi, 123pts
3 Matt Summerfield (Rangiora) Subaru, 110pts
4 Lance Williams (Te Aroha) Subaru, 106pts
5 Emma Gilmour (Dunedin) Suzuki, 86pts
6 Marcus van Klink (Kaiapoi) Mazda RX7, 77pts ENDS