A late entry from recently re-crowned New Zealand rally champions Richard and Sara Mason (BNT Subaru Impreza) has added a last minute twist to this year's Targa New Zealand tarmac motor rally.
The only other time the pair have contested the event - in 2008 - they won it and this is the first year they have been able to return to see if they can make it two wins from two starts.
"Targa is a fantastic event," says now four-time New Zealand Rally champion Mason, "and each year since 2008 Sara and I have tried to put together a package to do it again. The problem we've had is that it's always been difficult to find a budget at the end of the rally season. This year we have so we're coming!"
The pair will use their BNT-backed ProDrive-built 2012 New Zealand Rally Championship-winning 2008 model Subaru Impreza hatchback in the event and though he is best known for his exploits on gravel Mason says he is just as happy on tarmac.
"It's a different challenge, but one - if you like - with definite similarities so the way I drive the car on tarmac is not all that different to how I drive it on gravel. The car will be a little bit straighter, and not sliding about as much but the front wheels, if you like, will still not be tracking quite the same as the rear ones."
When they won on their event debut in 2008 the Masons led home former rally ace Joe McAndrew and Sue O'Neill in a Nissan Skyline R34, expat Kiwi Gavin Riches and Steve Wilcock in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, top female rally driver Emma Gilmour and Jason Farmilo in a Subaru Impreza and yes, current Targa 'King' Tony Quinn and his then co-driver Keith Wenn in their debut drive in the Nissan GT-R35 which Quinn and new co-driver Naomi Tillett have used to win the event outright for the past three years.
Because of that record Quinn and Tillett retain favourite status but as Mason says, 'there's only one goal in motorsport and that's to win!'
"I realise that it's a big ask because the competition, obviously, is very strong but that's why Sara and I do this. We love motorsport and we love to win and the only way to win is to do your best and see where you end up at the end of the event."
Now in its 18th year Targa New Zealand is one of New Zealand's biggest and most popular multi-day motorsport events with this year's route taking the 100+ pairings from Auckland on Tuesday October 23 to Havelock North in Hawke's Bay on Saturday October 27 with overnight stops in New Plymouth, Taupo, Palmerston North and Havelock North.
In-between are 1348.2 kilometers of touring stage and 878.3 km of competition ones with stage length varying from the marathon 47.53 km Kawhia Harbour between Oparau and Marakopa on Day 1 to the short and sweet 8.32 km Tuki Tuki east of Havelock North on the final day.
Back by popular demand are the Inglewood Jumps and Whangamomona stages in Taranaki on the second day and already eagerly anticipated are the two new Gentle Annie stages between the Rangitikei and Hawke's Bay on the fourth.