Young Nelson rally driver Ben Hunt is currently on his way to the United Kingdom to compete in the Ford Fiesta SportTrophy International Shootout.
Twenty-three year old Hunt won the 2011 New Zealand Rally Championship two-wheel-drive category, scoring maximum points in each of the five rounds. Winning this championship title also earned Hunt the 2011 New Zealand Fiesta SportTrophy (FST), the prize for which is the opportunity to travel to the United Kingdom to take on other FST winners from around the world at the prestigious international shootout.
The FST is managed in New Zealand by Neil Allport, former New Zealand rally champion and director of Neil Allport Motorsports. Rally New Zealand’s chairman Peter ‘PJ’ Johnston extends considerable support through his successful car sales operations Genuine Vehicle Imports and Auckland Ssangyong by providing the FST travel prize.
The Fiesta SportTrophy International Shootout is run by M-Sport, the team which runs the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, several other Ford teams and the new-this-season FIA WRC Academy. Based in Cockermouth, Cumbria, to the south-west of Carlisle in northern England, M-Sport runs the shootout from 16 to 18 November and offers the winner a year’s experience with the highly successful rally team.
Hunt says: “It will be such an amazing opportunity; just having the chance to experience a couple of days at M-Sport is a chance not to be missed. I am grateful to everyone that has made it possible for me to attend the FST International Shootout.”
Hunt notes that the FST shootout is similar to the Rally New Zealand Rising Stars Scholarship that he won in 2009.
“The shootout involves mental testing, physical testing, media interviews, driver testing in the new Ford Fiesta R2 rally car and a one-on-one interview with M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson. The winner is invited to spend a year working for M-Sport building rally cars and also doing testing in the cars. You would be learning all the different aspects of building and running a rally car and how a world rally team operates, so it’s really fantastic for a young rally driver like me to have the chance of winning this opportunity.”
Hunt says: “Over the last three months I have been doing a lot of work on my fitness to prepare for the challenges I am sure to face during the physical testing at the shootout.
“Former New Zealand rally champion Neil Allport is travelling to the UK with me. Neil is New Zealand’s FST co-ordinator and he will also be co-driving for me in the driving day of the competition, which is great!”
Another New Zealander, Kerikeri’s Stephen Barker, won the FST shootout in 2010 and has enjoyed a very busy year with M-Sport. Provided with accommodation on-site, Barker has been part of the crew which constructed, from scratch, 24 Ford Fiesta R2 rally cars for use in the inaugural season of the FIA WRC Academy.
“As part of my new role,” said Barker in a recent update for New Zealand rally fans, “I was also given the responsibility of shaking down each and every car prior to their first event. What is more, I helped put the Academy drivers through their paces as I helped introduce each of them to the Fiesta R2 when they attended an M-Sport training day in Cumbria prior to the 2011 Vodafone Rally de Portugal.”
Barker’s year at M-Sport is nearly complete and, during his time with the team, he has hosted VIP guests the Portuguese WRC event, drawn on his graphic design expertise to sign-write rally cars, and worked with the mechanical team to build a WRC-spec Ford Fiesta in just two weeks.
Peter Johnston notes: “Ben has several exciting days ahead of him this week and with this season’s championship-winning experience behind him, I would love to see Ben do as well as Stephen did and win the FST International Shootout. It’s clear that Stephen has done very well at M-Sport and it’s this kind of international exposure that can help our young rally stars create a successful career in this demanding sport. It’s fantastic to see Stephen’s hard work is further adding to the global reputation created by our world rally champion driver Hayden Paddon. I wish Ben, with Neil Allport beside him, all the very best.”