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Winning the weekend opening round of the 2009 Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship, Masterton’s Richard and Sara Mason in a Subaru Impreza have taken an early lead in the five round all-gravel series.

Extending their first day lead in the Tomoana Warehousing Rally Hawke’s Bay, Mason has set a new mark for the number of championship event wins with today’s two-minute twelve second margin over second placed Hayden Paddon and John Kennard.

“We were certainly wanting to win today – but we went a bit slower later in the afternoon because we’d built up a bit of a lead and just because you have a lead you don’t have to be silly with it,” said Mason.  His overall winning margin was half-a second a kilometre faster than his competition for the 301 kilometre event.

Paddon, the defending title champion in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9, could do nothing to reel in the Subaru team, instead consolidating his second placed points position by winning five of today’s stages.  Tonight he and Kennard depart early en-route to New Caledonia for their first round in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.

Third with one stage win in the thirteen stage rally, Hamilton’s Emma Gilmour and Glenn Macneall held position after climbing on to the podium on Saturday.

“Very happy with the result,” said Gilmour.  “A little disappointed we didn’t have such a good day today with a bit of damage to the turbo and being down on power all day, so the fact the car ran well was awesome – the team did well.”

“I feel there is more potential there; this weekend was always about getting on the podium and building on the next events.”

Gilmour also departs this week for the first round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship where she will again compete alongside Paddon.

Fourth – behind the premier group one cars, former champion Geof Argyle and co-driver Phil Deakin (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 7) finished eight minutes ahead of Matt Jansen and co-driver Jason Farmer (Subaru Impreza), to lead the new open-class premier group two category.

Christchurch based Jansen takes a sizeable lead in both the junior and rookie standings.

Perfect weather again treated the driving and support crews – with patches of dust the only significant factor to hamper the day.  Covering six stages to the west of Napier city, the 141 kilometres of competition for the day was again a test of survival with a number of ‘caught-on-camera’ moments a reminder to the limits being tested.

Both sidelined after the same water ford for the same reason, the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X teams of Sloan Cox/David Calder and Kingsley Thompson/Richard Ellis had the protective sump-guard under their new cars damaged by the rocky crossing.  Stopping for repairs, Cox later returned to competition while Thompson withdrew with additional under-body damage.

An electrical failure halted the run of Rotorua’s Dean Sumner and co-driver Paul Fallon.  The engine in their Mitsubishi EVO 9 stopped during the ninth test.

In the two-wheel drive battle, Auckland’s Patrick Malley and co-driver Malcolm Read in a Ford Fiesta headed the championship field to finish ahead of first Kiwi-2 car Aaron Cook and co-driver Strattan Campbell in the Honda Jazz.

“We’re lucky to come away with the result to be honest – the jetlag really got to me today,” said Malley who had recently returned from the opening round of the British Rally Championship.  “We wanted to get the points – get first two-wheel drive and top-ten times – so I guess it went better than according to plan.  So now we’re really looking forward to the next round.”

 â€œWe had a pretty clean run most of the day.  The car needs a bit of work on the shocks – but apart from that it’s the same as last year because we’ve been concentrating on the new car that we’ll bring out later in the year,” said Cook.

Palmerston North’s Tony McConachy and co-driver Ben Harding took overall two-wheel drive honours in the Hayabusa powered Toyota Starlet – but is not entered for the championship.

The only classic class team completing the entire event, Feilding’s Euan Fuge and co-driver Donna Elder did not rest on their laurels – finishing their Mazda RX3 ahead of other two-wheel drive rivals.

Biodiesel powered Matt Summerfield and co-driver Dave Neill of Rangiora made it through their first championship event unscathed – with Summerfield noting fuel surge problems in the Skoda Fabia vRS car during the day.

With six weeks until the second event in the five round championship, the teams’ head to Dunedin for Rally Otago (15 – 17 May). Featuring iconic gravel stages such as Kuri Bush and Waipori Gorge, Ramrock, Moonlight and Coal Gully, the two-day fourteen stage event also includes a number of international drivers competing in the classic category.

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