Richard Mason's two narrow misses on his way to winning all 13 special stages of the Otago Rally and, of course, the rally itself.
Otago Rally winner Richard Mason was faced with a spur of the moment decision part-way through this morning’s first special stage – a decision that would be a gamble whichever way he decided to go.
Right there in the middle of the road on SS8, Ramrock Road, was a large rock and he knew there was no way he could avoid hitting it with his BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
There were two choices – hit it with a wheel, or take the impact on the sumpguard, trying to hit it as obliquely as possible to minimise the impact on the sump itself.
It was the kind of quandary he didn’t need and one he’d been trying to avoid, taking things easily and ‘tip-toeing’ through rough, rock-littered sections of the rally route.
But rallying is unpredictable and there was the rock and a decision had to be made.
All this was happening at speed, you understand.
“It seems like you don’t have a lot of time to think about things, but…
“I had to decide whether to hit it with the wheel or the right-front of the sumpguard. If I took it on the suspension I was probably going to have to stop.
“If I hit it with the sumpguard it could go either way depending on how much damage was done.”
In the split-second he had to make the decision, he opted to hit with the sumpguard. “I tried to hit if off centre.”
Ultimately he got away with it, though the impact closed off a cooling duct which resulted in raised engine temperature and a drop in power.
“For the next couple of kilometres, I looked very closely at the oil light, and I had my nose out smelling for any funny smells.”
There weren’t any, but with the engine running hot and down on power, Mason’s pace slowed. “But it wasn’t enough for us not to win the stage.”
It wasn’t Mason’s only problem on Sunday. In the day’s third stage, SS13 Waipori Gorge, he clipped a bank. “I cut a corner too tight against the cliff.”
The impact bent a suspension arm and Mason had to drive with the damaged gear through the 51km Duns stage before getting to the service park at Lake Waihola.
Still he won Waipori and Duns – and ultimately every one of the rally’s 13 stages, taking a clean sweep that saw him win Leg 1 on Saturday, Leg 2 on Sunday, and the rally overall.
And he more than doubled his 2008 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship points lead, from 14 to 29.
The possibility of winning every stage hadn’t been on his mind early in the rally. Sure, he’d taken top honours in all six gravel stages on Saturday.
But the day was ending with the traditional tarmac sprint around streets in the Dunedin docklands. “Usually someone always beats me on the Super Special.”
But this time Mason won, sharing the stage victory with longtime rival Chris West.
And the possibility of winning all of the eight stages became a very real one.
It became “a small goal” alongside the main goal of winning Leg 2 and the rally overall.
But it was only after taking the win on Duns, the 51km stage, and finding he had an almost 50-second lead that Mason really started to think about the possibility of achieving that “small goal,”
“There were only s couple of stages to go, and I thought: ‘we might be able to win them all.’
“It gave us another goal especially when we had such a good lead.”
It was the icing on the cake, really, of what had been a perfect weekend’s rallying.
There was nothing more that could have been achieved, and Mason heads for Round 3 in Whangarei next month with a good points lead.