Full Otago Rally Leg 1 report
Mason wins in emphatic style
Dunedin, April 14, 2007, 9.35pm. Richard Mason showed why he’s the New Zealand rally champion with an emphatic victory in today’s Rally of Otago, the opening round of the 2007 Vantage Aluminium Joinery NZ Rally Championship.
Mason, driving his brand-new Subaru Impreza WRX STi, won all seven gravel stages to take victory ahead of fellow Subaru driver Emma Gilmour.
He was beaten only on the final tarmac stage on Dunedin City streets, where he was seventh-fastest.
He conceded a second of his lead to Gilmour there, and finished 26.9 seconds in front of her.
Scotsman Colin McRae finished third on his NZ championship debut, driving another Impreza.
The Subaru clean-sweep of the podium gives some “credence” to the Japanese marque’s confident press release of last week which pondered which Impreza driver will win the 2007 NZ title.
But today almost wasn’t a Subaru whitewash.
Brett Martin had run in second place early in the rally in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, before being overtaken by Gilmour.
Going into the final gravel stage, Martin was 5.9 seconds behind Gilmour, with third place seemingly in the bag and second a possibility if he could outpace the Dunedin driver in the last two stages.
But Martin’s day ended with the Lancer stranded in SS7 with a broken gearbox.
That let McRae into third place.
The Scotsman, a former World Rally Championship works pilot for Hyundai and Mitsubishi, had started cautiously as he got used to the NZ series’ supplied pacenotes, and as he and co-driver Steve Smith built a rapport.
But by the second set of stages, McRae was ready to attack with more determination, and did so, clawing his way up the order.
Dylan Turner finished fourth in his Lancer Evo 9, happy with the handling after a miserable 2006 series in which the car was unpredictable. That was traced during an off-season rebuild to burnt-out clutches in the centre differential.
Turner revelled in the car’s new predictability and pace. He said he could have gone faster but it was the season-opener and it was important to score points.
A disgruntled Sam Murray finished fifth, unhappy with the way the Fram Impreza had behaved.
At the final stage check-in, he said he’d had a terrible day.
“I was pretty rusty this morning,” he conceded. “I haven’t driven on gravel since September.”
Testing during the week had been hampered by a misfire which had returned during today’s two longest stages. “It cost us a second a kilometre.”
Hayden Paddon completed the top six in his Lancer Evo 8. The reigning Junior and Rookie champion had been pleased with his pace early in the event, but said he had struggled with car set-up during the afternoon stages. He was working on an overnight change to ensure a consistent run on Sunday.
Former champion Chris West seemed quietly delighted with his day in a one-off drive in the ex-Mark Tapper, ex-Tom Pritchard Evo 6.5 – a day that had netted a seventh place finish.
He was one minute 16 seconds off former arch-rival Mason’s speed at the end of the afternoon, but was satisfied with what he’d achieved in an old technology car which lacked even a “dog” gearbox.
The difference between the state-of-the-art Impreza he rallied last year and the Evo was shown by the difference in corner speeds, he said.
Co-driver Garry Cowan had remarked on the way the old Evo couldn’t carry corner speed like a more modern rally car.
West was chucking it around like he had his old Lancer because that was the way you had to drive it – sideways and spectacular: “I’ve had to re-learn bad habits.”
And he ended the day with a win on the tarmac stage.
Stewart Taylor brought his Evo 9 home eighth, ahead of spectacular and crowd-pleasing American Ken Block in a Sam Murray-run WRX.
Young Bay of Plenty driver Callum McInnes completed the top 10 in another WRX.
Mark Tapper won the Ford Fiesta class from Chris Lange and Kayne Barrie.
Dave Strong (Honda Civic) led home Aaron Cook (Honda Jazz) in Kiwi 2, with Reg Cook third in his Nissan Pulsar.
Robert Murray (Mazda RX7) won the classic section of the national championship.
It was a vintage Mason performance that won the rally for the Masterton man – measured, confident, emphatic.
And he says he didn’t really raise a sweat.
“We’ve been really enjoying ourselves. What can I say? I’ve been very surprised that we’ve won every (gravel) stage.
“We haven’t been trying that hard. We haven’t been mucking around but we haven’t being doing anything silly to stretch a big margin.
“Really I’ve just been trying to get used to the car. There’s a lot of different tricks on these new cars than we’ve had in the past.
“We’ve been (fighting against newer) machinery the last couple of years.”
The implication? Maybe no-one has yet seen what Richard Mason can do.
– story by Mike Stock; photography by Euan Cameron.
Photo captions: Richard Mason was in a class of his own in his new Impreza resplendent in striking yellow livery; Emma Gilmour heads for second place in the Vantage Impreza WRX; Colin McRae really hit his straps in the final few stages, setting up a terrific battle tomorrow (Sunday, April 15).
Buist wins in classics
Dunedin, April 14, 2007, 9.35pm. Christchurch Ford Escort BDA driver Deane Buist has won Leg 1 of the Dunlop International Classic Rally which runs as part of the Otago Rally.
He led home Italian Alex Fiorio (Porsche 911) and Palmerston North driver Robert Murray (Mazda RX7).
In the Rally Xtreme section of the Otago Rally, Regan Ross (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8) headed home Jeff Judd (Subaru Impreza WRX) and Mike Turfus (Evo 7).