MINI UK ambassador Harry Hunt off to flying start in first half of Dakar

MINI UK ambassador Harry Hunt off to flying start in first half of Dakar

12.01.2016: British driver Harry Hunt has made an excellent start to his debut Dakar Rally, sitting

British driver Harry Hunt has made an excellent start to his debut Dakar Rally, sitting 13th overall at the halfway point and setting times that are just off the top 10.

The 27-year-old, who finished on the podium at his very first cross country event less than a year ago in Abu Dhabi, is a MINI UK brand ambassador and former class champion in the World Rally Championship and Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

Now he has made the switch to long-distance endurance events, driving a MINI ALL4 Racing that is capable of going anywhere. The Dakar Rally, which has run through South America since 2009, is renowned for being one of the toughest motorsport events in the world – putting the emphasis on performance and reliability from cars as well as physical fitness from drivers.

It’s an event where experience is key, which takes years to build up. But on his very first attempt at the epic event, Harry is already in front of many more seasoned competitors. This has been through a combination of perfect consistency, expert guidance from his co-driver Andy Schulz, and raw talent in a huge variety of conditions.

Temperatures on this year’s Dakar have ranged from 38 degrees centigrade to close to freezing point, while the terrain encountered has included sand, mud and rocks – at altitudes that have peaked at an incredible 4750 metres.

Despite driving comfortably within his limits, Harry has regularly set stage times within the top 15 and is now knocking on the door of the top 10 overall, as the rally enters its gruelling second week.

“It’s been an amazing experience and above all I want to get to the finish,” said Harry. “So far, this has probably been the most intense week of my life and I’m learning so much every day. We’ve been trying to drive at a good pace, which is not too quick and not too slow, and we’ve managed to steer clear of any major problems. The car, the team and my co-driver Andy have all been fantastic. I’m looking forward to the next half of the rally now.”

Harry’s MINI carries a distinctive Union Flag livery that makes it easy to spot in the desert dust, and his exploits have already been featured on Eurosport – which provides live coverage and highlights of the Dakar – as well as in the national and international media.

If Harry succeeds in getting to the finish of the event, he will be one of the youngest competitors to do so in a factory-backed car. The Dakar is all about experience – but Harry is aiming to fast track the whole learning process.

Q&A Harry Hunt

How has the first week of Dakar gone for you?

HH: “It’s been beyond expectations really. It’s just been the most amazing experience that requires so much concentration, and of course a real adventure. Obviously I don’t get to see much on the stage as I’m quite busy but on the liaison sections the scenery is just fantastic: some of the most unbelievable landscapes I’ve ever seen.

How hard are you pushing to set these times?

HH: “That’s always the art of cross country: working out how hard you can get away with pushing. On the one hand, you want to set the best stage times that you can, but on the other hand it’s a 10,000-kilometre race and you need to get the car to the finish.

So you need to work out how you strike that balance. On average, I’d say that you’re around 80% most of the time and pushing a bit harder or a bit less depending on road and weather conditions.”

How difficult is it to adapt to the MINI and all the different terrains you experience?

HH: “The MINI is actually a very easy car to drive, although being a 3.0-litre twin turbo diesel you obviously have to adapt your driving style to suit the engine characteristics best.

It’s designed to give you a wide performance window in quite a variety of conditions, but the limiting factor is more the tyre:

when it’s really muddy the tread blocks can’t evacuate the water and mud quick enough so you end up aquaplaning on a surface of muck. We’re not allowed to cut the tyres or have a different pattern, so you just have to live with it.”

How big a role does the co-driver play?

HH: “The co-driver plays an extremely important role, even more so than in stage rallying. Andy Schulz, who is alongside me, is vastly experienced and that’s helped me a lot. Particularly in the second week of the rally, which we have just begun, there’s a lot of quite complex navigation that can make the difference between doing well and badly. I may be the driver, but this is definitely a team sport.”

Are you suffering physically, with the long days and the heat and the altitude?

HH: “Luckily it’s not too bad: the training programme I did before coming here seems to have worked well. In fact, I could probably even have done a bit less heat training as the weather’s been cooler than I expected, but there’s still a long way to go and everyone says that it could be really hot this week. I’m definitely tired at the end of each day, but I’m coping fine physically.”

Have you had any particular problems?

HH: “Nothing out of the ordinary: a couple of punctures, and we've been caught in peoples’ dust a few times, but that’s about it. Reliability-wise, the car has been absolutely perfect, which has allowed me to focus just on driving and gaining experience, which is why we’re here. For a first Dakar, I’m pretty pleased up to now.”

What's the plan for the rest of this week?

HH: “We’re not going to be doing anything massively different to what we’ve done so far, but the rally changes character a bit, with more complex navigation and open sand dunes, so we need to be careful. Above all, we want to finish and do the best possible job for MINI UK, to repay all their support and faith in us.

At the rest day I had a chance to look at all the other messages of support that have come in for us, and I’m really grateful for every one. It gives me added motivation to perform to the very best of our abilities.”

Carla McAlpine- photo MINI


12.01.2016 / MaP

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