Ben Hunt joins SKODA New Zealand Rally Team

New ŠKODA New Zealand driver Ben Hunt has debuted his ŠKODA FABIA R5 rally car and taken placed second overall at the Rally of Otago.

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Hunt says ŠKODA FABIA R5 is a huge step up from previous production spec rally car.

ŠKODA New Zealand is celebrating a strong debut finish for Ben Hunt in his new ŠKODA FABIA R5 rally car, having placed second overall at the gruelling Rally of Otago this weekend.

The excellent result comes just weeks after the brand confirmed a local partnership with the two-time New Zealand Rally Champion.

For Hunt, the result is validation he now has the equipment to challenge for future championships and to keep developing his rallying skillset with a globally recognised R5 rally car. It is also an impressive result considering he and co-driver, Tony Rawstorn, have only had very minimal proving time in the car to date.

“Heading into Otago, to be honest, we didn’t know exactly what to expect,” said Hunt. “For Tony and I, we only had a little over a day to shakedown and get a basic feel for the car, but not enough time to really gel with it.

“For the service team also it’s a radically different vehicle from my previous car: it’s a big learning curve all round. But once we got into the rally, the ŠKODA FABIA R5 was a dream to drive, and it does everything you want it to. I could feel my confidence build with each stage.”

ŠKODA New Zealand is delighted to see Ben associated with the brand and on the podium so quickly into the partnership.

“ŠKODA New Zealand couldn’t be happier with Ben’s result at Otago this weekend,” said General Manager of ŠKODA New Zealand, Rodney Gillard.

“To finish second on debut in a radically different car and with minimal seat time is truly an outstanding performance. It’s testament to both Ben and the FABIA R5, and this combination will be a force to be reckoned with in the domestic New Zealand Rally Championship.

“We’re excited to see the partnership build on this superb first outing. Not surprisingly, the ŠKODA FABIA R5 is the most popular factory-developed rally car of the current era, with more than 150 racing teams all over the world now using the platform and over 440 units of the ŠKODA Fabia in R5, Rally2 and Rally2 evo variants.

“It’s a timely success as we also confirm the exciting new FABIA to be launched in New Zealand later in 2022.”

Hunt says his team couldn’t fault the vehicle mechanically and the learnings gained from the first rally on the 2022 calendar will feed into future events including the International Rally of Whangārei in May.

“I think the biggest gains to be had are purely in building familiarity with the car,” he says.

 

“We need to simplify our pace notes somewhat going forward and we expect that will make a huge difference. In the ŠKODA FABIA R5 you can be flat out in corners you couldn’t be in my previous car. The speed we can now carry changes how Tony will create and read his notes. And obviously as we get more comfortable with those tweaks, we feel there’s more to unlock.”

Hunt has his eyes on a third New Zealand Rally Championship but says it is equally important to build confidence gradually.

“It’s a balancing act. You need to find the limits of the new car, but you also need to get as many seat miles in as possible to familiarise yourself,” he says.

“Looking at stage times against the likes of Hayden Paddon in the AP4+ car, and obviously his years of international experience, I’m very happy with where we’re at this early on with the ŠKODA FABIA R5. We’re confident we can keep building incrementally from here.”