Double former champion and current series leader Richard Mason leads the field into the second round of the 2008 NZ Rally Championship which begins in Dunedin this morning.
Cold but fine weather has greeted crews competing in today’s first heat of the Southern Cross Hotel Rally of Otago which starts in Dunedin with the first competitive special stage at 8.55am.
After yesterday’s persistent rain, the southern city awoke to overcast skies as cars made their way to the inner-city ceremonial start.
The question on many observers’ lips is whether series leader Richard Mason (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) will run away from the pack and consolidate an early lead.
Mason fought back in the series’ opening round on home turf in the Wairarapa after getting caught up and losing a big chunk of time in the dust caused by regining champion Sam Murray’s crash on Special Stage 1.
From then on Mason was first car on the road, sweeping the surface of loose gravel.
But his fightback drive saw him fall short of winning Leg 1 by less than a second. He dominated Leg 2 to take the round win and open the 2008 Vantage aluminium series points lead.
But Mason has plenty of opposition to contend with in today’s seven special stages.
Dunedin raised Emma Gilmour is in confident mood after curing the steering and engine problems that plagued her Subaru Impreza WRX STi in the Manawatu.
And Hayden Paddon, who rated his Wairarapa performance below par, is looking to cut Mason’s points lead and get his feet on top of the podium in the green machine Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.
Former champion Chris West is similarly mounted and is out to build on his solid start in round one. Observers expect to see West cut loose on the new stages north of Dunedin in tomorrow’s second leg of the rally.
The last time the event used road in that area – not the same roads, though – West was uncatchable on the blind crest-filled tests.
Watch also for strong performances form the Evo 9 flying wedge of Stewart Taylor, Dean Sumner and Brett Martin.
And among the emerging drivers names to look for includes Lancer Evo runner Sloan Cox (aged 16) and Impreza pilots, Callum McInnes, Andre Meier and Grant Barber who has switched from a Lancer.
The Kiwi 2 segment will see a return match-up between Honda Jazz driver and points leader Aaron Cook and Dave Strong (Honda Civic Type-R).
On day two of the Wairarapa Rally they fought a battles that Strong rated as the most intense he’s ever been involved with.