Richard Mason has won all six gravel stages and has just one tarmac super special to complete to clinch victory in Leg 1 of the Otago Rally.
Only a 2.15-kilometre sprint around a tarmac super special stage in downtown Dunedin stands between Richard Mason and an emphatic victory in today’s first leg of the Scenic Circle Rally of Otago.
The BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver has won all six gravel stages of today’s heat of the two-leg event, and leads Hayden Paddon (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) by 21 seconds going into the final test.
It’s a good margin but nothing is ever comfortable in rallying, and it would take only one mistake to give Paddon the chance to pounce.
Mason has controlled the event from the first special stage in the Akatore Forest, and only Paddon has come close to challenging him.
Third-placed Stewart Taylor (Evo 9) is 2m 13.6s adrift of Mason as the cars complete their final service of the day at Lake Waihola, south of Dunedin.
There has been a third driver at or near the pace, former NZ champion Chris West (Evo 9) but Westy’s rally took a thumping on SS1 when he picked up a puncture and dropped more than three minutes to Mason.
Take the three minutes out of West’s time and he would be third overall, four seconds adrift of Paddon – probably not close enough to catch Paddon on the final test, but still close enough for the Geraldine, South Canterbury, driver to feel the pressure.
West has turned in a superb drive, working his way into the top 10 and then into fifth place going into the super special.
The finishing order on the past four stages has been: Mason, Paddon, West.
Ironically, West’s elevation into fifth place has come at the expense of Brett Martin (Evo 9) who lost time with a puncture in Special Stage 5, a re-run of the test on which West punctured this morning.
Going to the final stage, the rally order is: Mason, Paddon, Taylor, Dean Sumner (Evo 9), West and 16-year-old Sloan Cox (Evo 8). Dave Strong leads the Kiwi 2 two-wheel drive class in his Honda Civic Type R.
In the classic rally, Finn Pasi Hagstrom leads in his Porsche 911 after four special stages.
* The overall results listed are provisional. All cars hadn’t completed SS6 when this was written.