Double New Zealand Rally Champion Richard Mason's frantic fortnight rallying on two continents at the end of last month proved to be much tougher than expected.
A number of mechanical maladies in China with their new GT Tires Rally Team Subaru severely blunted Richard and Co-Driver Sara Randall's latest performance in the China Rally Championship, the Kaiyang round, held in the south-western province of Guizhou.
Driving with a down-on-power engine, a leaking gearbox and a centre differential that had mistakenly been disconnected, Richard and Sara still held fifth place at the end of the first day, but the gearbox change went badly wrong and took over two hours to complete. This meant exclusion from the leg and the overall results.
Therefore Day 2 was spent focused on testing tyres and their 2005 model right-hand-drive Impreza, and after two punctures in one stage, the Masterton Flyers rounded off the rally with a second fastest time on the last stage.
"To say our latest trip to China was frustrating would be a major understatement, but at least we got the maximum time possible getting to know the car, which we expect to drive again at the final round at the end of November - just a week after our P-WRC [Production car World Rally Championship] drive at Propecia Rally NZ."
That Chinese rally is also the final round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship for 2006.
A rapid return from China saw Richard and Sara immediately preparing for the Manawatu Daybreaker Rally the next weekend, where Sara thoroughly enjoyed her first drive in over twelve months, running her Toyota Levin - known as BERT - as the Zero [Safety Warning] car.
"We had an excellent day and it was great to get back behind the wheel again. I didn't realise just how much I have missed it!!" said the diminutive 20 year old.
Apart from Sara's Toyota, the Richard Mason Motorsport Team looked after both their NZRC winning Subarus - BYACAR & EVOETA - which were used by Auckland's Marty Roestenburg and young Kirsty Nelson (Northland) respectively in preparation for their drives in our round of the World Rally Championship [WRC].
Marty's first-ever competitive drive in a Group N Impreza went pretty much to plan - maximum stage distance plus getting used to everything after a career in other makes - and he finished 7th in the 70 car field.
Kirsty (16) was following a similar approach near perfectly, in spite of a time-consuming puncture on the Manfeild Autocourse test. However the teenager was caught out by a ditch on the outside of a corner on the penultimate stage. Kirsty almost got the BNT Subaru out of trouble, but unfortunately EVOETA hit a culvert that tipped it over onto its roof and into retirement.
Richard was his usual philosophical self, saying that the damage was largely cosmetic and it was very important for Kirsty to get experience of a Subaru before Propecia Rally New Zealand because her Evo3 Mitsubishi is no longer eligible for WRC events. That way she can make the most of the wonderful opportunity that winning the Rally NZ Ladies Scholarship will provide in just six weeks' time.
"Naturally enough, EVOETA was going to be stripped down in preparation for Rally NZ anyway," said Richard. "Kirsty's trip-up just means we have to strip it down a bit further than we originally planned. So it's no big deal really."
The other tough decision Richard had to make recently was to pass up an invitation to drive in the P-WRC in Rally Australia at the end of this month.
"One of our fellow competitors in China, Takuma Kamada drives in the P-WRC for Subaru Team Quasys from Japan, but is unable to compete in Australia. So I was approached to be their entry, but unfortunately I would have had to supply my own car and team and there just wasn't enough time to put together a package at such short notice. But at least it shows we are in the minds of folk overseas, and that they saw us as being worthy of consideration to do the job for them."
West Australian local, Dean Herridge - the top Australian national championship Subaru driver and a previous Rally NZ Group N winner - has since been drafted in to fill the breach.