Going all out to win both heats of the Hawke’s Bay Rally ceased to be an option for New Zealand Rally Champion Richard Mason after rival Sam Murray retired early on Leg 2.
Mason had won the first heat on Saturday, July 29, and was locked in a battle with fellow Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver Chris West on Sunday when Murray’s Subaru struck mechanical problems and he retired.
Murray went into Hawke’s Bay second on points – 33 behind series leader Mason - but his retirement increased Mason’s potential points lead.
After finishing second to West by 0.4 of a second on elapsed time at Hawke’s Bay (West won Leg 2 by 15.1 seconds from Mason) the reigning champion has increased his lead over second-placed Murray to 74 points.
And that means he has the opportunity to clinch his second success championship at his home rally, the Trust House Racetech Rally Wairarapa, at the end of August.
“When Sam retired so early on Sunday, our priorities for the weekend changed dramatically,” Mason said. “The championship suddenly became a whole lot closer (to us), so, as much as our natural instinct of winning at every opportunity told us to fight for the rally win, risking valuable points was simply not an option.”
“(A points lead of 74) is way beyond our wildest dreams, especially after such consistently close competition at every outing,” Mason said.
“Now to have a very realistic chance of taking out our second drivers’ Gold Star, plus the co-drivers’ title at home in Masterton in front of all our local supporters, would be just superb.”
Mason won the Saturday heat by building a substantial early lead after West made a wrong tyre choice, opting for wide rubber which offered little grip on the heavily-gravelled roads.
For the second set of three stages, West changed his tyre choice and fought back from fifth to finish second, 14.7 seconds behind Mason.
Mason’s co-driver Sara Randall said she has never known so much noise coming from the gravel pounding the underside of their WRX on the Saturday stages.
“The road noise was so loud I couldn’t hear myself calling the (pace) notes,” she said. “So I was yelling them out to make sure Richard was getting the right calls. It was unbelievable, and it wasn’t really any different on Sunday either.”
Mason said “road sweeping goes with the territory when you’re first car through the stages, so to win Leg 1 was definitely a real bonus for us.”