This weekend’s Rally of New Zealand could be the defining point in this year’s national rally championship.
With the first two days of competition and a total of 67 points at stake, any of the four championship contenders could go to the final round in Nelson next month able to protect a healthy points lead.
Subaru Impreza WRX STi drivers Sam Murray and Richard Mason will be right in the mix.
Palmerston North’s Murray (above right) is only nine points behind series leader Hayden Paddon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8).
“If you DNF on one of the two days, that’s definitely going to put you out of the running,” said Murray.
“And with Nelson only being a one-day event, it’s crucial to do well here because you won’t be able to make up much of a deficit at the final round.”
Murray is heading to the Hamilton-based event which starts tonight (Thursday; ceremonial start, special stages begin on Friday) with a simple plan.
“We’re going to go as fast as we can without firing it off the road. The car went well at Hawke’s Bay and we learnt more about how our tyres perform. I’ve got more confidence in the package. Now we’ve just got to pull out all the stops.”
Mason (bottom right), who has an entry in the Production Car World Rally Championship class so he can measure himself directly against the international drivers whom he finished second amongst last year, has a more strategic view.
“We want to stay near the front of the field and then see if we can step it up on the last day once the championship points have been sorted out.”
Mason says the pace of the leading Kiwis fighting for the national title will have them doing similar stage times to the top international PCWRC drivers.
“I think I’ve got the best opportunity ever to get a real good result on Rally NZ,” he said. “The car is better than last year and all the top locals will be pushing us hard.”
Emma Gilmour will be having her third outing in her new Impreza since her big crash at Whangarei in May and admits it has taken longer to get back up to full speed.
“We want to start at a good pace and increase it a little bit each day. Having two passes through the stages during reconnaissance helps build the confidence a bit more.”
Like all the leading local drivers, Gilmour is looking to gain as many national series points over the first two legs of the World Championship event as possible.
Sunday’s final day of the event will be a chance to become the top local driver to finish for all three Subaru drivers.