Richard Mason wins his ninth successive stage in Rally Otago and Chris West again strikes problems, triggering a fightback drive.
It’s business as usual for New Zealand Rally Championship points leader Richard Mason in Leg 2 of the Scenic Circle Rally of Otago.
The twice NZ champion has taken his BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi into a 12.4-second lead over team green Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 driver Hayden Paddon after two special stages north of Dunedin.
In fact, Leg 2 of the rally is turning into a mirror image of the early stages of Leg 1, give or take a second or two.
Mason is building a lead stage-by-stage. After the day’s first test, SS8 Ramrock Road, he was 11.3s ahead of Paddon, increasing that by just over a second after winning the 8.96km sprint along Moonlight. Mason has now won all nine stages.
In third place, though being outrun by the first two drivers is Hawke’s Bay’s Stewart Taylor (Evo 9) who is 40.9 seconds behind Mason and 28.5 adrift of Paddon.
And in trouble is former champion Chris West in the Andrew Simms Evo 9, just as he was yesterday.
In Leg 1, West picked up a puncture in SS1 and dropped three minutes to Mason; today a turbo boost pipe problem saw him lose 2 minutes 27 seconds to Mason and emerge from Stage 8 in 14th place, behind the fastest Kiwi 2 two-wheel drive cars.
Which will mean another day of fighting back by West.
The Evo driver said he was unhappy with his pace during yesterday’s stages in which he fought his way back to a fifth place finish.
He says he wasn’t as quick as he knew he should be. He was aware of where and why he was losing time to Mason and Paddon but couldn’t bring himself up to their speed.
He made some changes to the Lancer’s chassis set-up overnight and was banking on them to give him the confidence in the car to increase his own work rate.
On this morning’s second test, West was fourth behind Mason, Paddon and Taylor. His time was 4.6 seconds slower than Paddon’s and 5.7 slower than Mason’s.
This morning’s first test, Ramrock Road, had lived up to its name for Mason who found himself confronted by a rock right in the middle of his path.
The choice was to hit it with a wheel or the Impreza’s protected oil sump. He chose the latter, hitting the rock so hard that it sprang the bonnet.
On that stage, Mason’s Impreza’s telemetry showed the car had reached a maximum speed of 198kph.
Brett Martin was fourth-quickest on SS8, followed by Callum McInnes (WRX) and Dean Sumner (Evo 9) who was unhappy with his pace.
Sloan Cox (Evo 8) continued his impressive rally, coming in seventh, one place ahead of Emma Gilmour whose attack was being blunted by a down on power engine in the Impreza.
Then came WRX drivers Andre Meier and Grant Barber.
The order after SS9, the morning’s second special stage, is: Mason, Paddon, Taylor, Martin, McInnes, Sumner, Cox, Gilmour, and a dead-heating Barber and Meier.
Dave Strong (Honda Civic Type-R) leads Kiwi 2 from Aaron Cook (Honda Jazz Type-R).
Stage 8 was stopped while cars in the Classic Rally (which runs as part of the Otago event) were contesting it.
Some cars got through before officials stopped the stage after one of the classic entries crashed. The driver is understood to be unhurt but a doctor as at the scene and a high-speed medical vehicle was heading to the crash scene.
The condition of the co-driver is unknown.