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New Zealand Rally Champion Richard Mason is looking forward to crossing swords with Australian Cody Crocker at this weekend’s Rally of Whangarei, even though weather and road conditions are likely to favour one of them, and not the other.

The event is the second round of the Asia Pacific Championship and the National Championship. Last year when the pair, both driving Subaru Impreza WRX STIs, met in similar circumstances at Rotorua, Mason scored a late come from behind victory.

Crocker as the defending Asia Pacific Champion is the top seed, while Mason will start twelfth on the road behind all the other Asia Pacific competitors, who get priority start positions. Ironically the top seeded New Zealander is veteran Brian Green who will start ninth, but would be unlikely to get a top ten starting position in a purely New Zealand national event.

Although Mason will be starting four minutes behind the slowest seeded Asia Pacific driver, Robert Christian from New Caledonia, he is not overly thrilled with the idea.

“The start order should be done purely on merit and safety,” he said. “It’s not fair to anyone. He will be under more pressure knowing there’s a faster driver behind him.”

Mason said Christian only had to have a spin or a puncture in one of the longer stages and he would catch the New Caledonian, potentially delaying him.

“We don’t want outside influences affecting the championship.”

Mason would also like to see if he can match Crocker again. “But the road conditions will be unfair to somebody. If it’s dry Cody and the other top seeded drivers will be sweeping the roads and we’ll probably get better conditions. If it’s wet the reverse will occur and the roads will become muddier with every passing car, giving Crocker the advantage.

“It will be nice to keep up with him, but we need points in our championship.”

If Asia Pacific competitors were not given priority seeding, Mason could have expected to have been seeded either first or second for the event. Since winning the opening round of this year’s championship in Otago last month, Mason’s team has spent time fine-tuning the suspension of his latest model Impreza.

Emma Gilmour, who will start 15th was Mason’s closest challenger at Otago, is looking for more of the same on the Northland roads. “He’s the benchmark and if I can keep him honest then hopefully we will be close to the international drivers,” Gilmour said.

Gilmour is looking for another podium finish to cement her growing reputation in the largely male dominated sport. “I’ve got confidence in the car and the pacenote team work with Glenn (Macneall her co-driver) is getting better.”

The other top NZ Subaru driver, Sam Murray, is confident of a better showing after a subdued first round.

“We’d changed so many things on the car over the summer I wasn’t comfortable going any faster at Dunedin.”

But with a test day at a local rallysprint, Murray is much happier with the car. “My head’s in the right place now! We will be faster at Whangarei”

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