Richard Mason, from Masterton, who currently leads the 2012 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, powered by Brother (NZRC), is amped and ready for this week's Brother Rally New Zealand.
Mason with co-driving wife Sara head the NZRC field set to contest the same three-day event as drivers competing in the FIA World Rally Championship and fellow New Zealander Hayden Paddon competing in the FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship. Brother Rally New Zealand, round four of the NZRC, takes in a refreshed route with Friday's action around Te Akau and Raglan, Saturday's action heading north to Whangarei through Kaipara and Sunday's route on stages that are predominately new for current NZRC drivers.
Mason and other top NZRC competitors like Dunedin's Emma Gilmour, Christchurch's Matt Jansen and Timaru's Chris West are in the same specification Group N four-wheel-drive cars as competitors in the FIA Production World Rally Championship, which gives Mason an important goal for this rally.
"We have three goals for Brother Rally New Zealand," says the three-time New Zealand champion.
"Firstly, we obviously want to extend the lead we have in the championship - we currently have 90 points, 20 ahead of Emma Gilmour in second place.
"Secondly, we want to win our class – that means beating all the PWRC competitors and with home advantage, that's achievable.
"And finally, we'd like to earn the honour of being the first New Zealanders home. We've been first Kiwi twice before, but know it's a tall order this time with Hayden in better machinery. Still, who knows what will happen."
Mason says his BNT-backed Subaru is running well. "The handling's the best we've ever had it and I'm really, really enjoying the car this season. We've worked hard to get it to this point."
After the first day and a half of reconnaissance, Mason says the roads are fairly damp. Showers are forecast for Wednesday and Thursday for the Waikato region on through which Friday's route runs toward the famous Whaanga Coast stage south of Raglan, and for Whangarei where Saturday's route heads. This could mean Mason and fellow NZRC competitors are disadvantaged by roads being churned up by the WRC, SWRC and PWRC competitors running ahead of them.
"The route itself looks great, the usual mix of excellent rallying roads. Sunday's route around Puhoi is all new for me and that makes a good change."
Mason doesn't discount any of his leading NZRC competitors in terms of who's likely to be on the pace.
Emma Gilmour will be tackling the 20 point deficit in the championship standings to Mason. The Vantage Aluminium Subaru driver has been on the pace, taking plenty of stage wins during the season's first three events.
While Coromandel's Alex Kelsey is currently third in the overall NZRC standings, it looks like the talented open 4WD class competitor – who led the NZRC outright after a sterling performance at Brother International Rally of Whangarei, isn't going to make the start for Brother Rally New Zealand. Kelsey crashed heavily at the previous round in Otago and is working around the clock to have the Subaru rebuilt in time to make Thursday evening's official start function.
Currently fourth in the overall standings, Matt Jansen also heads the junior driver leader-board. At 24, this is the last season, the Mitech Welders Subaru driver can compete for this title. Having progressed through the ranks he currently sits ahead of 2004 champion Chris West.
Rivalry is fierce amongst the 2WD competitors with a variety of cars vying for the honour of first home. Nelson's Ben Hunt, in the Ford Fiesta ST will contest his second round of the season, having squared off against historic competitor Marcus van Klink's Mazda RX7 and Dave Holder's Toyota Levin at the recent Otago event. While each are competing in different categories, their overall pace has them often level-pegging in stage times in the pursuit of fastest 2WD.
News and information about the championship – including driver profiles and team news – can be found on the website www.nzrallychampionship.co.nz