Ben Hunt: “GRC Lites Would Be A Dream Come True”
New Zealand Rally Championship veteran Ben Hunt is no stranger to the podium behind the wheel of a race car. After making the switch to the top level of the NZRC, Hunt won the series’ Daybreaker Rally in June on the way to a fourth place points finish last year.
While Hunt’s experience is primarily in stage rally, he sees rallycross as an opportunity to further build his impressive young career in the future. With that in mind, he traveled to California this week to take part in an open GRC Lites test session with Olsbergs MSE. In an exclusive interview, he talks about putting together the opportunity, the many differences between the Lites car and a stage rally car, and what it would mean to race in GRC:
For US fans who might not be familiar with you yet, tell us a bit about your background and your career so far.
I haven’t been doing motorsport for that long—I grew up doing tennis in New Zealand and a bit in Australia from a young age. When I was about 18 or 19, I didn’t really want to do the dream of being a professional tennis player anymore, and I had an opportunity to go to the States on a tennis scholarship. My dad used to race, so he was pretty keen at getting into rally, and at 21 I bought my first rally car.
Six months later I won a scholarship to do the New Zealand Rally Championship with Rally New Zealand, and I haven’t really looked back since. I’ve done the New Zealand Rally Championship for the last four or five years, and won the 2WD championship twice. Last year was our first year in a 4WD drive car, and we were up on the podium in five out of the six rounds, and had a rally win, so that was really good for our first year.
How did this opportunity come about for you?
I know a guy really well who knows David Ridden, David Ridden got in touch with Mark Smith in New Zealand, and asked who from New Zealand was good enough to come and test one of these cars, and my name got put in there. I had seen some proposals from Olsbergs MSE and David in Australia, and that’s how this deal came about. It’s a pretty awesome opportunity to come over here and test a world class car, a proper race car, and I loved it, it was awesome.
Testing the GRC Lites car isn’t your first rallycross experience this season. What have you done with the sport this year already?
About a month ago, we had a massive show in New Zealand called the 4 & Rotary New Zealand Nationals, and they always try to have something different to please the crowd in between looking at the cars. So a few of us got together and put on a show for them—it wasn’t really a race event or anything, we just did shows throughout the day. And we had jumps where one car could go under while the car jumped over.
I loved it—just being able to be inside an arena, where I think they had 30,000 people watching, it was a whole new experience. Going forth in rallying, I think it probably is the way of the future. (Rallying) is a bit like where in motocross, you have a car going past you for a few seconds, while rallycross is like supercross, where it’s in front of everyone and you have the whole crowd cheering you on. It’s a pretty awesome experience. And I love doing jumps—I’ve ridden quite a few motorbikes, and I still do, so I love jumping things!
How big of a difference was driving the GRC Lites car compared to your Subaru in NZRC?
The first massive thing was the cars that we drive back home, you drive on the right hand side of the car, and obviously here it’s a left hand drive car. That was a huge thing in and of itself, when you go to change a gear in a left hand drive car, and your left hand goes for the window or the door! So I really had to try to adjust to change gears with my right hand.
It’s just a whole different view from the car. Your apexes are different. Even though you think it’d be pretty straightforward, when you grow up on driving on one side of the car your whole life it’s a big difference. The other thing is that it’s a really good car—the chassis and the whole thing was a lot stiffer. It’s like a race go-kart more than a rally car. I’d never really driven anything with a sequential gearbox before, so that was pretty awesome. I’d love to put one in my Subaru!
Were any current GRC Lites drivers present at the test? Did any of them make any demonstration runs?
Yes—Mitchell deJong was there, and Austin Dyne was there. DeJong did a run in between all of us doing some runs, to kind of show us how to drive it. I think myself and the guy from Aussie (stunt driver Jack Monkhouse) were fastest, just from what David Riddon was doing on the stopwatch. I don’t know how the Olsbergs team would want us to drive it, so I kind of drove it like a rally car, quite a lot sideways. But after seeing Mitchell drive it, in my next few runs, I kind of drove more tarmac racing lines. It was interesting and it was a beautiful day in California, but hot—too hot for us Kiwis!
What would it mean to you to be able to become a full-time GRC Lites driver?
It would just be a dream come true. So many kids grow up with the dream of being professional. If I was able to keep all my sponsors back in New Zealand to do the New Zealand Rally Championship and have a drive over here, I’d go for it, you know? It would be an awesome experience—you meet a lot of new people, and you’d put your name out there with a brand.
I’m a young fellow from New Zealand who’s trying to make himself go a bit further, so it’d be an awesome experience, even if I got to do a few rounds, or if I got to do the full championship. I think there are a lot of people from New Zealand that would be watching, and there would be a lot of media attention for something like that. Hayden Paddon from New Zealand just got a World Rally drive for seven rounds for this year, and something like this, with rallycross being the way of the future, would go over crazy back home.
When will you be back in action next?
The New Zealand championship opens on the 10th and 11th of April, and I think it’s also the first round of the Asia Pacific championship. So that’s cool—it’ll be an international rally, and there will be competitors coming from around the world coming to that. That’s always a really good rally, and the teams coming always make it a really good weekend, so I’m really looking forward to that.
Photo credit: Scott Johnson (1); Riddos Consulting (2, 4); James Southern/OversteerTV.co.nz (3)