Reigning champion Richard Mason hits his straps immediately in the Otago Rally, winning the first special stage on the outskirts of Dunedin City.
Dunedin, April 14, 2007, 10am. Defending New Zealand rally champion Richard Mason has leapt to an immediate lead in the opening round of the 2007 series near Dunedin this morning.
In crisp, cool weather (10 degrees Celsius) and under blue skies, the Masterton driver pedalled his new Subaru Impreza WRX STi to victory on the opening stage of the Otago Rally.
Mason hurled the yellow Impreza through the Whare Flat stage in eight minutes 38.9 seconds, to open a 2.9-second margin over Brett Martin’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.
Third fastest on the stage was Emma Gilmour (Impreza) with a time of 8m 45.2s.
Five-tenths of a second behind her was South Canterbury driver Hayden Paddon in his Evo 8.
Just one-tenth of a second separated him from Aucklander Dylan Turner (Evo 9) who mirrored his strong start in Otago in 2006 when he was fourth-fastest on SS1.
Scotsman Alister McRae (WRX) completed the top six, with a time of 8m46.6s.
In the battle for the Ford Fiesta Cup, Mark Tapper drew first blood, pushing the front-wheel drive Fiesta through Whare Flat in 9m 29.5s.
He was well clear of his pursuers in the four-car category. Second quickest was Southland driver Chris Lange with 9m 43.3s, followed by Kayne Barrie, the former Kiwi 2 hotshoe, with a 10m 03.0s time.
Among other championship contenders, Sam Murray was seventh quickest on 8m 46.7s, with American Impreza teammate Ken Block on 8m 49.6s.
Former champion Chris West, reunited with a Lancer Evo after several seasons in a Subaru, turned in a time of 8m 57.3s, a tenth of a second behind Evo 9 driver Dean Sumner.
West said this morning that he knew the Lancer – which he’s running in a one-off drive – had no chance of footing it with the cars at the head of the field. He was adopting a watch-and-wait policy, ready to push hard when he saw an opportunity.
Australian David Hills’ rally got off to a bad start, his Lancer off the road 11.1km into the 13.1km test. Neither Hills nor co-driver David Calaghan was reported to be hurt.
Mike Stock in Dunedin.
Photo caption: Emma Gilmour was third fastest on the first stage of the Otago Rally.
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