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Richard Mason clinched his second successive New Zealand Rally Championship crown in style by taking an outright win in front of his home crowd on the Wairarapa Rally.

Although the Kiwi series still has its sixth and last round– the September 24-25 Nelson Rally – to run, the Wairarapa event was Mason’s last NZRC event for the year because Nelson has a date clash with the Chinese championship in which he is also competing.

In normal circumstances, that would have made Mason’s NZRC title defense a long-shot. But, helped by arch-rival Chris West’s retrospective exclusion from the first two rounds of the year on technical grounds, he had already built a massive points lead after four rounds. He thus started the Wairarapa event virtually assured of the title as long as he finished each heat in a reasonable position.

The inevitable promise of a tactical drive was duly made, but that was never going to be Mason’s preferred style on his home event. Instead, he won Saturday’s opening heat in style after former champion Chris West’s challenge was blunted when he clipped a bridge and damaged the suspension of his Impreza.

West gained a measure of revenge on Sunday’s second heat, which he took from Mason by a matter of seconds, but it was the latter whose lesser combined time for the heats saw him take the overall win and secure the 2006 NZRC title.

"We started prepared to give away victory because the championship was more important," said Mason, “but the way things worked out we were able to take the championship with a win, which is the more satisfying way.”

The only real change from what is firmly established as the “Mason and Westie Show” at the head of the NZRC came on the second stage of the rally, which was won by Brett Martin (Mitsubishi) and after which Sam Murray (Subaru) held a brief rally lead.

Martin continued strongly to finish third in both heats and third for the event overall, but Murray ended his rally off the road on the second heat after finishing fourth on leg one.

“We just went wide, touched a tree with the back guard - which spun the front round and we went down in to a bit of a creek,” explained Murray

His demise left the way clear for Emma Gilmour – back from Europe just a couple of days earlier - to claim fourth for the weekend, with a placing of fifth on heat one and fourth on heat two.

“It was been quite an adjustment getting back behind the wheel of my Impreza after those two European rallies in the Fiesta,” Gilmour said at the rally finish. “I probably underestimated the impact of having to contest an event so soon after the trip back from Europe too: now it is over, I feel absolutely shattered.”

Fifth overall went to promising teenager Hayden Paddon, who was seventh on heat one and fifth on heat two. He now leads the rookie division of the national series. Fellow Lancer drivers Dean Sumner and Stewart Taylor finished sixth and seventh.

The Kiwi-2 class for non-four-wheel-drive cars was dominated Aaron Cook (Honda Jazz), who extended his overall title lead over Glenn Inkster (Honda Integra) by winning both heats in commanding style.

Overall placings for Trust House Racetech
Rally Wairarapa (August 26-27,  2006)
1. Richard Mason (Masterton) 2:09:04.2
2. Chris West (Auckland) 2:09:29.5
3. Brett Martin (Turangi) 2:10:25.0
4. Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) 2:10:33.7
5. Emma Gilmour (Dunedin) 2:11:18.2
6. Hayden Paddon (Geraldine) 2:11:59.0

Kiwi-2
1. Aaron Cook (Kapiti) 2:21:02.2
2. Dave Strong (Auckland) 2:23:00.5
3. James Holder (Auckland) 2:23:10.1

Points: Parker ENZED New Zealand Rally Championship
Overall Goldstar:
1. Richard Mason 296, 2. Brett Martin 202, 3. Emma Gilmour 188, 4. Sam Murray 183, 5. Chris West 182

Kiwi-2
1. Aaron Cook 250, 2. Glenn Inkster 197, James Holder 193, 4. Jason West 162

Photos: Geoff Ridder

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