September 1, 2007, 9.30am. New national chamoinship leader Sam Murray concedes he had a useful day’s rallying in Leg 1 of Rally New Zealand yesterday.
After all he amassed enough points to move into the lead of the national series after his main rivals Hayden Paddon and Richard Mason both struck problems.
The gearbox failed on series leader Paddon’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, and Mason lost three minutes with a puncture on the day’s fourth special stage. That dropped the Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver out of the NZ section lead and to second place on points.
But as good as the day turned out in the final wash-up, Murray wasn’t as satisfied as you might have expected.
First, he had got the tyre compound choice wrong on the morning stages and struggled for grip.
Second, his Subaru WRX had been plagued by inconsistent handling, masked by the lack of grip on the unexpectedly slippery roads (it had rained heavily overnight and there was still residual drizzle in the morning tests).
And then there was the question of lady luck who – fortunately – had smiled on him.
After the first run through the two stages near Pirongia, Murray was fourth in the NZ section of the rally behind Mason, Alister McRae (Evo) and Dean Sumner (Evo).
By the day’s end he was third, and in the series lead, taking a 12-point buffer over a dead-heating Mason and Sumner into today’s second leg.
But it almost hadn’t been, Murray said in the Mystery Creek service park last night.
“We were pretty lucky today,” he said. “Part-way through the first stage this morning we heard a banging in the front of the car.”
He’d thought it was the usual story – hit a pothole hard.
Inspection at the end of Leg service revealed a broken right-front shock absorber. All the gas had escaped, rendering the shocker useless and the car had relied on just the spring all day.
Somehow it had held together.
“It was a really big hole (in the road). Whether we went in a little bit much or hit as sharp rock,” Murray said.
Initially there was little effect. “Our time in Stage 1 wasn’t bad, but for the rest of the day we struggled for grip and handling.
“The upside is that yet again we have come away with good points.”
Murray believes today’s roads will be more consistent and that the advantage gained yesterday by Mason and Paddon running about 20 cars ahead (they’re in the production world championship section of the rally as well as the NZ series field) wont count as much.
He expects today’s roads to be less cut-up, narrowing the advantage of running earlier on the road, and making for a more even battle.
And he’ll be hoping lady luck continues to smile on him.
Story by Mike Stock. Photo by Euan Cameron.