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The second round of the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship heads to the northern venue of Whangarei for the Hella International Rally of Whangarei this weekend.
With two rounds in the six round series being international events, this weekend pits the NZ championship contenders against the Asia Pacific Rally Championship series cars.  While the cars are identical in specification, the major difference is the use of the more expensive FIA controlled fuel for this event.
With 22 NZ championship cars in three classes it will be champions Richard Mason and Sara Randall (Subaru Impreza) who head the Kiwi field behind the international category cars.
Following a clean sweep at the Otago season opener, Mason is already 11 points ahead, with fellow Subaru campaigner Emma Gilmour in second.
“For me, we’re very happy with our result down in Otago and we’d love to have a repeat of that at Whangarei.  If we can run at the front of the field we’ll grasp it with both hands, but we certainly need to make sure we stay in front of the New Zealand championship cars first,” Mason said. 

“There are a lot of new things for us this year: new car, tyres and it’s taking a bit to get our heads around really.  I wouldn’t say we’re on top of our game yet. We’ve been trying to develop our car and the only way we’ll find if that’s successful is when we hit the rally.”
Starting behind Mason, by virtue of his competitive pace, Mitsubishi driver Brett Martin says his speed is welcome proof of his potential.
“I was quite surprised at how we went at Otago really.  It was the first time with Grant, my new co-driver – we just took it quietly and got good times,” Martin said. “It says I’m improving and I guess it’s just a confidence thing.  We’re getting more experienced with the technical details – like the stage notes and tidying them to work better for me.  I’m certainly feeling more comfortable with the car and my confidence is just going to improve the more I drive the Evo 9.”
Leading the 2WD championship cars, Auckland’s Mark Tapper will again head the field in his Ford Fiesta ST.

“I’m just looking to carry on where we left off at Dunedin really, as far as the Fiesta and 2WD cars go – and I think I can pick off a few of the 4WD cars too.  I think the roads of Whangarei will suit the Fiesta more than Dunedin – being public roads with cambered corners.”
Living just south of Whangarei, it will be a special weekend for teenager Kirsty Nelson.  Her second event in the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship, it will be the first time in her Subaru Impreza on ‘home’ roads.
Missing from the second round is Scot Alister McRae.  Unable to secure the necessary sponsorship to contest this weekend, the New Zealand based team are instead eyeing having the high-flying WRC driver return for round three.
The two day event covers some of New Zealand’s best known rally roads, with past Rally New Zealand events having put the region on the international map.
The rally takes place over 277km of competitive roads.
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