Richard Mason produced a measured and cool-headed drive to absolutely dominate today's first leg of the Otago Rally, round two of the 2008 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship. Mason won every special stage and was never really challenged.
New Zealand Rally Championship points leader, Richard Mason, drove with maturity and assurance to win today’s first leg of the Scenic Circle Rally of Otago, run in cool but fine weather south of Dunedin.
The BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi driver and former double NZ champion took the rally by the scruff of the neck on Special Stage 1 this morning, and never slackened his grip, driving to a 22.7-second victory over rising star, Hayden Paddon.
Paddon, in the left-hand drive team green Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, pushed hard all day but couldn’t quite match Mason’s pace.
Mason did the real damage on the rally’s first two stages, building a solid lead over Paddon, and edged the gap further stage-by-stage.
He went to the final tarmac stage around Dunedin’s docklands with a 21-second lead over the young South Canterbury driver, and extended it by 1.7 seconds.
It had been a faultless display by Mason who won all of the day’s seven stages to take the Leg 1 win.
He was challenged most on the final test where long-time rival Chris West (Evo 9) equalled his stage time and shared the win.
West, Paddon and – especially – Mason were in a class of their own, running after Stage 1 as a flying wedge that was ultimately well clear of the rest of the top order.
Mason had an edge over Paddon who had an edge over West.
Former champion West’s rally had gone wrong from Stage 1 when he punctured a tyre on sharp rocks and dropped three minutes to Mason.
The catch-up drive was phenomenal, and West surged back into the top five, driving the Lancer to an eventual fifth place.
Mason’s domination was reflected by the gap between him and third-placed Stewart Taylor (Evo 9) who had won heat one of the series’ first round in the Wairarapa last month.
Taylor finished 2m 15s behind Mason, and 1m 53.2s behind Paddon.
Dean Sumner, debuting his brand-new ITM Evo 9, came home fourth, and Dunedin-raised Emma Gilmour brought the Vantage Aluminium Joinery WRX into sixth place behind West.
Gilmour had been plagued all rally by a mystery transmission/front-end ailment, and had changed to a standard synchromesh gearbox during the day.
The driver who caught several observers’ eyes was 16-year-oldCox who brought his Evo 8 Lancer home seventh, 32s adrift of Gilmour.
Impreza drivers Grant Barber and Andre Meier were eighth and ninth, ahead of Dave Strong who got his front-wheel drive Honda Civic Type-R amongst the 4WD turbocars and won the Kiwi 2 class.
He had his usual battle with current Kiwi 2 champion Aaron Cook in the ex-Strong Type-R powered Honda Jazz, but this time finished 63 seconds ahead of the Wellington region driver.
The intensity of their rivalry was shown on the final tarmac stage where they dead-heated. Cook finished the day 14th in Kiwi 2.
Kirsty Nelson had looked good to finish 10th in her WRX but was bumped in the closing stages. If she had it’s though tit would have been the first time two women drivers have finished in the top 10 on a NZ championship rally. Nelson finished 11th.
Also disappointed was Brett Martin (Evo 9) who had been running well inside the top 10 when he lost time with a puncture on the second run through Akatore, the stage on which West had punctured at the start of the event.
Robert Murray won the Classic NZ championship class in his Mazda RX7, from Rob Wylie’s Nissan 240RS.
Only two cars – from three starters – finished in the Ford Fiesta Challenge, with Chris Lange getting the better of newcomer Ben Jagger by 17.8 seconds.
Patrick Malley retired the third car with a blown engine on SS1.
Rally action resumes at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning when the six-stage Leg 2 starts north of Dunedin with two roads new to the event.
The remaining five tests are to the south, with the final stage being Whare Flat which has been the rally’s first special stage in recent years.
Results of Leg 1 of the 2008 Scenic Circle Rally of Otago, May 10.
1. Richard Mason/Sara Mason, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, 67m 10s.
2. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +22.7s.
3.Stewart Taylor/Warwick Searle, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +2m15.9s.
4. Dean Sumner/Paul Fallon, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +3m52.1s.
5. Chris West/ Garry Cowan, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +3m56.1s.
6. Emma Gilmour/Glenn Macneall, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, +4m43.3s.
7. Sloan Cox/Tarryn Cox, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +5m15.7s.
8. Grant Barber/Bede O’Connor, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, +6m09.8 s.
9. Andre Meier/Jason Farmer, Subaru Impreza WRX STi, +7m04.5s.
10. Dave Strong/Bruce McKenzie, Honda Civic Type-R, +7m13.4s.