Ben Hunt continues his domination of the NZ Rally Championship
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The New Zealand Rally Championship is switching gears to a single-day rally format this weekend with North Canterbury hosting the third round of the series.
The Lone Star Rally of Canterbury will challenge crews with eight gravel special stages and 162km of competition on Sunday. It’s an event that in the past has provided varied challenges, from dry and dusty to full-winter snow and ice.
Subaru driver Ben Hunt (Auckland) has dominated the early season two-day events at Dunedin and Whangarei, claiming two wins and coming up only two points short of a clean sweep of the Leg and Power Stage bonus points.
Hunt is Sunday’s top seed in a 69-strong field and he leads the championship with 86 points from Holden Barina AP4 driver Josh Marston (Christchurch) on 49 and Auckland’s Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda2 AP4) on 46.
Marston looms as Hunt’s nearest rival in the title fight and will be looking to his home event — where he scored his first national event win last year — to peg back Hunt’s early season advantage.
Hawkeswood hasn’t entered the Canterbury event which has a significantly thinner look to the top seedings than the earlier rallies at Dunedin and Whangarei.
Hawkeswood, along with Hayden Paddon and David Holder had contested the Asia Pacific Championship category at both events but aren’t in action this weekend while Auckland’s Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4), Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (Suzuki Swift Maxi) and Hamilton driver Stephen Barker (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9) are other leading drivers also missing from the Canterbury entry list.
Tauranga’s Phil Campbell (Ford Fiesta AP4) has been seeded third and Rangiora’s Matt Summerfield (Subaru Legacy) is seeded fourth.
The pair of Skoda Fabia R5 cars driven by Aucklanders Raana Horan and Kingsley Jones are next in the seeding list ahead of Auckland’s Jack Hawkeswood (Mazda2 AP4), Canterbury drivers Dylan Thomson (Subaru Impreza) and Job Quantock (Skoda Fabia AP4) while Tauranga’s Ben Thomasen (Subaru Impreza) completes the top-10.
After winning the Westland Rally earlier this year, Woodend’s Brad Harris has been seeded 11th and is another to watch in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6.
The rally starts from Rangiora at 7.50am on Sunday. The first stage action takes place in the Ashley Forest before the route heads north towards Amberley, Cheviot and Parnassus with four public road stages.
The last three stages are back in the Ashley Forest and the final two stages are timed to start at 5.24pm and 5.58pm to challenge crews with some rare — in the modern era — after-dark rallying before the finishers tour into Christchurch for a Manchester St finish ceremony at 7.14pm.
2019 NZ Rally Championship (after round 2 of 6):
1 Ben Hunt (Auckland) Subaru WRX STI, 86pts
2 Josh Marston (Christchurch) Holden Barina AP4, 49pts
3 Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) Mazda2 AP4, 46pts
4 Dylan Turner (Auckland) Audi S1 AP4, 39pts
5 Marcus van Klink (Christchurch) Mazda RX8, 32pts
6 Dylan Thomson (Christchurch) Subaru Impreza WRX, 30pts