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Four times New Zealand Rally Champions Richard and Sara Mason are heading into new territory for Round 4 of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship [NZRC] – the Stadium Cars/Vinz Rally of Canterbury – this weekend.
 
The Masterton Flyers have been participating in the national championship for over a decade, but have never competed in the spiritual home of South Island rallying – the Ashley Forest north of Rangiora.
 
“It’s quite weird that we have been around so long and the only time we have ever been there was a couple of years ago to have a crack at the Ashley Forest Rallysprint,” said Richard.
 
“It’s great to be going somewhere different as that always makes your ‘weekend skids’ that much more challenging and exciting, and to be going to a place that is legendary in New Zealand rallying makes it all the more interesting….”
 
The Canterbury Rally was first run 40 years ago and ran its first NZRC round in 1981 when Paul Adams and Jim Scott won in their Ford Escort.
 
It became established as a cornerstone round of the NZRC between 1983 and 1996 with many of New Zealand’s best having their names engraved on the winner’s trophy. Names like Stokes (3 times), Allport, McAndrew and Tulloch (twice each), Bourne, Graham, Harris, Owen, Muckle, while current series sponsor Brian Green was the last to taste the victory champagne when he and Jim Robb won in their Ford Escort WRC in 2000.
 
During that period the rally was always held in May – except once, in 1993 when it was run in July – and records show that conditions varied from dry and dusty to heavy snow…..
 
“We have heard so much about the unique nature of this place [Ashley Forest] over the years and what a tricky place it can be due to the terrain, which can create wild variations in weather and road conditions in a very short space of time,” said Richard. “So the pre-rally reconnaissance on Saturday and the weather forecasts will be crucial as to what we can expect to face on Sunday.”
 
The Masons have bounced back from suffering one of the cruellest blows in motorsport at the previous round - the GoPro Daybreaker Rally in the Manawatu at the end of June - when their BNT Subaru ground to a halt with a jammed gear lever just 4 kilometres short of the finish of the final stage, with a dominant victory virtually within reach.
 
“That was one of the worst experiences we have had since we started rallying,” said Richard, ““particularly as we were having such a great run, the car was working better than ever and we had no inclination or warning that anything like that was about to happen…..30 [NZRC] points, the championship lead and a record breaking 23 NZRC round win gone in a flash……
 
“But you take what you can from all that, learn from it and move on. What it does mean is that we have now used up our ‘wildcard’ - dropping your worst score from the 6 round series – so a maximum possible points haul this weekend is vital to maintain or improve that situation.
 
“We know we have the pace. In its current spec and setup, the car is really exciting and a pleasure to drive. All we need now is that final key factor – reliability – and with that we should be in an ideal position to make a strong push for the championship at the final two rounds in September and October.”
 
The Stadium Cars/Vinz Rally of Canterbury begins with a Car Show and Ceremonial Start at the Palms Shopping Centre in Shirley from 3pm on Saturday August 10th, before the competition starts from Rangiora Toyota at 8am on Sunday the 11th.

Nine high speed technical stages in the Ashley and the adjoining Okuku forests await the 54 crews with Rangiora Toyota being the central Service Park throughout the day, before the Rally Finish back at the Palms from 4.30pm.
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