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If the restart of gravel rallying in the North Island after 52 weeks wasn’t enough to look forward to, anticipation ahead of the Driven Auto Sales Rally Bay of Plenty ramped up another level when New Zealand’s fastest rallying couple appeared on the seeding list. Sunday’s Whakatane based nine-stage rally saw Richard and Sara Mason back in action and very quickly work up to speed to complete a winning return. Driving the same "bug-eye" Subaru Impreza that took him to the first of his five NZ title successes in 2005, Mason won five of the nine stages and claimed a 15.7secs victory over the Skoda Fabia R5 of Raana Horan and Michael Connor. A competitively-fought event saw Horan win the first two stages to build a slim early lead, while Dylan Turner (Audi S1 AP4) and Kingsley Jones (Skoda Fabia AP4) also posted stage wins during the day. Emma Gilmour was also a competitive force over the former Rally New Zealand stages and finished third in her Suzuki Swift AP4, just ahead of the fast-closing Jones.

Richard Mason proved why he's a five-time NZ Rally Champion. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Horan led the rally through the first four stages, but a left front puncture near the end of stage five cost him 15-20secs and the lead. Horan had run the same tyres through the first five stages and with hindsight reckoned it had been just a few kilometres too far. Mason had been fine-tuning the Impreza’s suspension through the early stages to find a handling sweet spot. The wins in stages three and five suggested he was close. At the main mid-rally service at Matata, with five stages completed, there had been no retirements among the leading crews. Mason led by 2.1secs from Horan, while Gilmour was in third spot a further 22.4secs back from the lead. She would have been closer, but a start line problem in stage one needed a diff computer reset and about 15-20secs was lost. Mitsubishi drivers Todd Bawden (Lancer Evo 6) and Grant Blackberry (Lancer Evo 10) were next and Kingsley Jones was running sixth. Bawden had punctured his left front with a high-speed excursion in stage four, and Jones had spun twice in the 24km Manawahe Road stage after being happy with his pace in the early part of the stage.

After 52 weeks away from rallying Raana Horan took a strong second place. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Rallysprint standout Haydn Mackenzie (Lancer Evo 9) was producing a solid drive and in spite of driving out of stage five on a left rear puncture, he was seventh. Top-speed Phil Campbell (Ford Fiesta AP4) was unable to pinpoint a cause for a lack of pace and was running eighth, ahead of Quentin Palmer (Lancer Evo 5) and Dylan Turner. Turner had lost a big chunk of time with turbo hose problems in stages two and three. Following repairs at service he won stage four, notching up the first Kiwi stage win for the new Hoosier gravel rally tyres. The next loop of three stages saw Mason edge ahead of Horan with three stage wins to build a 7.0secs lead. After the final service there was just the short Stanley Road stage – run in the reverse to the morning – to complete the event. Mason didn’t win the stage, but he more than doubled his advantage over Horan to win the rally by 15.7secs. "The car was a bit hard to drive for the first few stages, but we changed things and it got better during the day," Mason said. He ran second hand tyres throughout the rally and survived a scare at the final service. "We broke a spring platform on the right front with two stages to go and the guys did the best they could with it for the last stage," he added.

Third place went to Emma Gilmour and Malcolm Peden in their Suzuki Swift AP4. Photo: Geoff Ridder

Horan is a relative newcomer in the front ranks of Kiwi rallying and said he enjoyed his first battle with Mason. "We had the problem with the tyre but no spins and no issues with the car," Horan said. "It’s been a great rally. We did what we intended to do after 52 weeks out of the car." Third place for Gilmour was her first rally podium since 2016. The afternoon mover was Kingsley Jones. Redeeming himself for his spins on the first pass he was third fastest through Manawahe Road 2, and finished with a flourish by winning the last stage. That effort saw him finish just 4.9secs behind Gilmour.

Photo: Geoff Ridder

A fast and consistent rally from Blackberry was rewarded with fifth place, and Bawden’s eventful day continued with a blown front diff in the final stage, but he nursed the car to the finish in sixth. Campbell and Mackenzie were next overall, while Turner’s Audi was sidelined with a prop shaft breakage. Moving into the top-10 during the afternoon were Carl Adnitt in his 4WD triple-rotor Mazda RX-8 and Lancer Evo 9 driver Matt Jensen. The Motorsport BOP Inc organised event continued its focus on new competitors with a Novice category for drivers who had completed fewer than three rallies. With 11th overall the Novice win went to David Sievers and Matthew Sayers (Subaru Impreza) ahead of 13th placed Jay Pittams and Tamsin White (Subaru Impreza). The other Novice to deliver a strong result was 17-year-old Jackson Clendon (Ford Fiesta ST), who finished 14th overall and was also the highest placed competitor with a two-wheel-drive car.

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Driven Auto Sales Rally BOP 2020 - overall results: 1. Richard and Sara Mason, Subaru Impreza WRX, 1h 16m 34.9s 2. Raana Horan/Michael Connor, Skoda Fabia R5, +15.7s 3. Emma Gilmour/Mal Peden, Suzuki Swift AP4, +58.0s 4. Kingsley and Waverley Jones, Skoda Fabia R5, +1m 02.9s 5. Grant Blackberry/Ric Chalmers, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo10, +1m 25.6s 6. Todd Bawden/Paul Burborough, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6, +1m 40.9s. 7. Phil Campbell/Jared Hudson, Ford Fiesta AP4 +1m 50.7s 8. Haydn Mackenzie/Michael Goudie, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9, +2m 48.5s 9. Carl Adnitt/Aaron Conaghan, Mazda RX-8 4WD, +3m 38.4s 10. Matt Jensen/Tyson Jemmett, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo9, +4m 26,3s Novice Drivers: 1. David Sievers/Matthew Sayers, Subaru Impreza WRX, 1h 21m 46.9s 2. Jay Pittams/Tamsin White, Subaru Impreza, + 1m 15.0s 3. Jackson Clendon/Katrina Renshaw, Ford Fiesta ST, + 1m 15.3s

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

Photo: Geoff Ridder

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