Richard Mason won this weekend’s Otago Rally overall and both heats – but the victory in today’s Heat 2 was anything but easy
Dunedin, April 15, 2007, 8.30pm. Reigning New Zealand rally champion Richard Mason had a perfect start to his title defence, winning the Otago Rally this afternoon and taking away the maximum points haul.
Mason won the overall rally by a good margin, and also prevailed in the two heats, scoring a comfortable win yesterday but a more fraught one in today’s Leg 2 where he won by the skin of his teeth from a determined Emma Gilmour.
The combination of a decidedly on-form Emma and a mystery problem which robbed his BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi of power during the first three stages caused Mason some anxious moments as he strove to win today’s Leg and take maximum points from the round.
The mechanical problem, which turned out to be a blocked intercooler water spray unit, saw Mason equalled on a gravel stage for the first time this rally and then beaten on Stage 10, the morning’s second test, where he could manage only fifth.
Gilmour won the stage in her Vantage WRX, and was 15.6 seconds faster than Mason.
That dropped Mason to third overall, 14.6 seconds behind Gilmour, with Scotsman Alister McRae (WRX) second.
Mason fought back hard on the next test, SS11, the 35.77km Doon Flats, and was convinced he had done a flyer. He was astounded to discover he had taken only 5.5 seconds off Gilmour.
He was still more than nine seconds behind Gilmour, though McRae had now slipped to sixth place and would slump to eighth with centre diff problems.
Junior rally champion Hayden Paddon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8) had worked his way into third, a position he would hold till the end. Paddon also placed third overall, a result that exceeded his wildest dreams. He would have been content with a top five finish.
Then came SS12, Akatore West, the stage that would ultimately set up the nail-biting finish to Leg 2.
Mason discovered the water sprayer blockage before this stage and cleared it.
With the engine back to full power he flew through the stage, a fact underlined by the time he was allocated 6m 35.9s, a full 11.6 seconds faster than Gilmour. He had taken a sensational one-second-a-kilometre off her. Or had he?
That gave Mason the rally lead by 2.5 seconds – or so it seemed at the time.
No-one seemed to doubt it at the check-in control at the Lake Waihola service park.
Mason was convinced that with the car restored to full power he had simply whomped the opposition. He’s done such things before.
Evo 9 driver Dylan Turner mused: “he’s so much faster than anyone else that it’s not funny.”
Even Gilmour said she’d dropped back to second place. “Mason did a blinder through the last stage, but still I’m really happy. The car is really good and I keep learning and improving my driving all the time.”
Mason won SS13, adding 4.5 seconds to his lead over Emma, then made the gap 13.7 seconds after winning SS14.
So he went to the Forbury Park trotting track superspecial with what he thought was a good lead in Heat 2 and an unassailable lead in the rally overall.
It would simply be a matter of driving around, and only a disaster could stop him winning.
Well it wasn’t exactly a disaster, but it certainly was a bombshell.
As he waited to start the Forbury Park stage, Mason was told his SS12 stage time was 10 seconds slower than had been thought originally. He’d done 6m 45.9s, not 6m 35.9s.
The error was put down to a mis-spoken or misheard communication between two officials’ posts.
Someone at rally headquarters had thought it unlikely – given the relative margins between then on other stages – that Mason had indeed taken a second a kilometre off Gilmour on SS12.
The paperwork was checked and a discrepancy found, a discrepancy confirmed by the print-out from the special stage clock which showed Mason’s time as 6m 45.9s, 10 seconds slower than originally thought.
That meant Mason had been in second place right up until he won SS14. His lead over Gilmour going to Forbury Park was a mere 3.7 seconds.
The pressure was well and truly on. He couldn’t afford a mishap but equally he would have to go all out and complete the stage in as fast as possible a time. Running first on the road and sweeping the loose material off the surface, that would be a tall order.
He went for it, driving so hard he had a rare nudge of a barrier, damaging the brand-new Impreza. He was 12th fastest, Gilmour 10th and 1.4 seconds quicker.
Mason had won the Leg by just 2.3 seconds. Gilmour was second, Paddon third.
Then came Sumner, Sam Murray (WRX), Chris West (Evo 6.5), Turner, McRae, Callum McInnes (WRX), and Nathan Thomas (Evo 7).
In the overall rally, Mason won from Gilmour, Paddon, Murray, West, Turner, McRae. McInnes, Thomas and Stewart Taylor (Evo 9).
Mark Tapper won the Ford Fiesta challenge class, Aaron Cook drove his Honda Jazz-Type R to victory in Kiwi 2, and Robert Murray won the national championship classic section in his Mazda RX7.
In the Dunlop Classic International Rally section of the event, Christchurch’s Deane Buist won in his Ford Escort BDA, from Italian Alex Fiorio (Porsche 911) and Murray.
Regan Ross won the Rally Xtreme round in his Evo 8, from Jeff Judd (WRX) and Mike Turfus (Evo 7).
Andrew Hawkeswood won the Allcomers’ section in his Evo 6.5, followed by Kieran Hall (Evo 5) and Andrew Graves (Evo 3).
In fact, taking all classes into account, Hawkeswood was third overall behind Mason and Gilmour on elapsed time. He had even won Sunday’s longest test, SS11, by 2.8 seconds from Mason.
- Story by Mike Stock; photography by Euan Cameron.
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Photo captions: Rally of Otago winner, Richard Mason. Second-placed Emma Gilmour. Third-placed Hayden Paddon.