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Ben Hunt fired up for the Southern Adventure

Former professional tennis player Ben Hunt is leveraging his late career change to rally driving to his advantage as he gears up for the Transport World Southern Lights Rally. Known for his candid and straightforward approach, Hunt shares his thoughts on the event and what he is looking forward to in this unique southern adventure, aboard the Skoda Fabria Rally2 car with co-driver Tony Rawstorn.

 

Coinciding with the rally weekend, Hunt is also expecting the birth of his second child. He has arranged an early departure on Saturday evening to ensure he can be home in time for the arrival.

 

“I honestly know nothing about it,” Hunt said of the event’s heritage. “I grew up playing tennis until I was 20, and while we used to watch the Nelson rally, we didn’t follow the championship or events outside our region.”

 

Reflecting on the Southland conditions, Hunt commented, “Obviously, with Southland, you think of the cold. It could be snow or ice, and the further south you go, the more likely you’d expect it – which adds a whole new layer to the mixture of what we do. It could also be really nice.”

 

In terms of the roads, Hunt admitted, “I have no idea what to expect. They are likely similar to Catlins in some places and similar to Lawrence too, I’m guessing. I’ve not seen any old footage of those roads, so I don’t have any basis to really know.”

 

“If they are like a dragstrip, we can only get to 185km/h-ish in fifth gear in our Rally2 car. But if they are roads like South Canterbury or Otago, where I can enjoy driving the car, that makes me happy.”

 

Hunt pauses.

 

“There is a lot going on. Kid number two is on the way that weekend. So, while I’ll be serious on-event, it is also a hobby, and if I get that good feeling in the car and get home in time to be a dad again, I’ll be happy with any result.”

 

Reflecting on the time since the last Southland rally, Hunt is keen to see something new.

“I am looking forward to it. Nowadays since 2009, you get a bit sick of the same four stages, then the same in the afternoon. You enjoy going to an event with a mixture of roads. A whole new rally brings new excitement. Not touring the same part of the country. A lot of people are really looking forward to it.”

 

Hunt also enjoys the thrill of nighttime rallying. “I love it at nighttime. It is a whole other aspect of rallying,” he said. “If it was easy, everyone would do it. Ten years ago was the last proper stage in the dark; I came out with a 30-second lead. What you put in, you can get out in terms of advantage going into the day.

 

“Being sponsored by Hella helps – having the best lights on the car – it’s exciting to be using them.”

 

Discussing the change in dynamic in his team, Hunt added, “The services aren’t the same; they have to have lights. It brings hype and excitement back to rallying. After the ceremonial start, we should be having a night stage or two. We are making the big trip – why not do some stages at nighttime? Everyone is there to go rallying, not sit around and wait for tomorrow.”

 

“Rallying needs to be a mission. It is an escape from the PC world we are living in. I’m gutted I wasn’t around in the 70s and 80s when they raced in the night and through the day. Same for the service crew – they had something to do. It was worth their while. It was when boys became men. This type of event is the reason I go rallying.

 

 “I’ve had friends ask if there are night stages – because they would come watch as they’ve never seen that before. Of course, it doesn’t suit everyone, but let’s see who rises to the challenge. Being such a mixed event throws a spanner in the works of what people are used to.”

 

The Transport World Southern Lights Rally kicks off on Friday night, 21 June 2024, from Invercargill and covers 157km of special stages through the nation’s Southland region. Following pre-event reconnaissance on Thursday and Friday, the ceremonial start begins at 4pm at the iconic Bill Richardson Transport World. The competitors will then head into the dark for the first special stage in the Pebbly Hills Forest region.

 

The competition resumes on Saturday morning with a further nine special stages, including two service stops at the township of Winton. The rally then heads west to Tuatapere before returning to Invercargill for the event's final stage at the Teretonga race circuit. This stage, a combination of gravel and tarmac, will bring the competitors to the track-side ceremonial finish at 5pm.

 

Spectators can enjoy the action with entry to the Transport World ceremonial start available for a $10 donation to charity at the door. Spectator entry for both the Pebbly Hills night stage and the ceremonial finish is also $10. Tickets can be purchased in advance from Invercargill’s Transport World, E Hayes & Sons, Auto Centre, and Harrison Supplies in Gore, or directly at the gate.

 

Daylight hours for the weekend – the shortest of the year – are from 8:31am to 5:05pm, compounding Hunt’s challenge count.

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