Nelson driver, Ben Hunt, hits the New Zealand rallying big time this season after winning the first Rally New Zealand Rising Stars Scholarship
Hunt (20) beat 11 other candidates in a two-day contest that included driving a front-wheel drive Ford Fiesta on a rally special stage in the Maramarua Forest, and being put through out-of-the-car activities.
Hunt won a $50,000 package that includes expert mentoring and support during 2009, a professionally-prepared Fiesta to drive in the two-wheel drive production car class of the 2009 Vantage Aluminium New Zealand Rally Championship, and an entry for Rally New Zealand.
“It’s going to be one heck of a ride,” he says. “The most difficult part of the weekend was the last interview with the Rally New Zealand panel. They really grilled me.”
Hunt began rallying a year ago after a tennis career that saw him selected as an age group representative several times. He coaches tennis while studying tourism management at Nelson Polytechnic.
In rallying, he’s taken class wins and places in regional Rally Nelson and the Westland Rally.
Hunt says having NZ rally great Neil Allport do the in-car assessment of drivers during the scholarship weekend “has been brilliant. I’ve learnt so much.
“I wasn’t expecting to make the top four. There are a lot of talented guys here, but I tried to go with the flow and learn as I went.
“This is a huge leap forward in my career, given I have only a year’s competition experience. It really is a dream come true.”
Rally New Zealand chairman, Chris Carr, says scholarship judges were impressed by Hunt’s career-focused plan for the 2009 season when they questioned him about his rallying goals.
“We’ve taken a two-pronged approach looking at out-of-car activities like securing sponsorship, media interviews, fitness and career plans, as well as a thorough assessment of in-car abilities.”
Carr says Rally NZ will also fund a car for scholarship runner-up, Daniel Harris (18), to drive in Rally New Zealand in August this year. Harris is also from Nelson.