Mason to start favourite in Rally of Otago
2007 Rally of Otago winners, Richard and Sara Mason, will start as
odds-on favourites to win this year’s event, to be run in and around
Dunedin on May 10 and 11.
The husband and wife pairing, driving a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, are based at Masterton, on the North Island, but that hasn’t stopped them from performing well down south.
The winner of the 2005 and 2005 New Zealand Rally Championship, Mason started the year brilliantly and leads the 2008 title race by 14 points after the first round.
Hawkes Bay’s Stewart Taylor lies second, just four points clear of fellow Mitsubishi Lancer driver, Haydon Padden. After making the switch back to running a four-wheel drive car, after a couple of seasons in a front-wheel drive Ford Fiesta, Mark Tapper is fourth, driving a Mitsubishi.
Former national champion, and Subaru factory driver, Chris West, is also Mitsubishi mounted, in fifth place.
That makes Mason the only Subaru runner at the head of the pack. In a championship once dominated by Subaru, that’s an interesting turn of events in itself.
Dean Sumner and Brett Martin (Mitsubishi), and Sam Murray and Emma Gilmour (Subaru) are all expected to be in the mix for a podium result.
Gilmour, in particularly, will be keen to get back on the pace in her home event. After a heavy crash early in last year’s championship, she’s struggled to find the speed to match the front runners since, and will be hoping the Otago Rally will be where she turns her fortunes around.
The first day of the event will provide plenty of stages that will sort the competitors out. Of the seven special stages, three are over 28km in length, including the 28.18km Akatore test that will start the rally. Any driver who makes a slow start could have blown their chances of victory in just the first stage of the rally.
Sunday is even more daunting. The 29km Ramrock Road stage starts the day, but it’s the 51.28km Duns stage that already has competitors shaking in their boots. A flat tyre, a spin or a mechanical failure during that stage could have rally-changing ramifications.
Young guns Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi) and Kirsty Nelson (Subaru) will again be looking to impress, while in the hotly contested Kiwi 2 category, Aaron Cook will start the favourite.
Cook’s Honda Jazz took the honours at the opening round of the championship in April, but veteran Dave Strong, in a Honda Civic, can never be underestimated. Nor can Patrick Malley, who currently lies third in his Fiesta.
While only 21 cars have entered for the national championship component of the rally, there are others who will score points for both the NZRC and the Classic rally class.
Auckland’s Rob Wylie won the day in round one in his Nissan 240RS, while consistency helped Australian Greg Poole to second place in his leased Escort RS1800. Defending NZRC classic champion, Euan Fuge, will again push for victory in his Mazda RX3.
Much of the interest in the Otago Rally, understandably, lies within the Dunlop International Classic Rally, but for those with an eye on the prize of a national title, the NZRC is the place to be.
Running before the classic cars, the NZRC crews should enjoy the best of the road conditions, and in mostly four-wheel drive cars that use their traction and horsepower brilliantly, they’ll be just as impressive to watch.
Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship
Goldstar driver championship – points: after round one (top-ten)
1. R Mason (Masterton) 62
2. S Taylor (Hastings) 48
3. H Paddon (Geraldine) 44
4. M Tapper (Auckland) 41
5 C West (Christchurch) 40
6 B Martin (Masterton) 37
7 C McInnes (Tauranga) 34
8 S Cox (Rotorua) 24
9 A Meier (Cambridge) 23
10 G Barber (Foxton) 22
Photo: Euan Cameron