Richard and Sara Mason became New Zealand motorsport's first married couple to win the New Zealand Rally Championship when they won last weekend's TOMOANA WAREHOUSING Rally Hawkes Bay - the final round of this year's Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship [NZRC].
They won the championship with absolute consistency, recording a 4th (at Otago), 2 x 2nds (at Rally NZ and Whangarei) and 2 x Wins (at Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay) that came from driving at just the right pace at all times and saw them effectively control the outcome of the series with two rounds to go, after a brilliant fightback at Wairarapa.
This well conceived, tactical approach was executed perfectly at all five rounds, as the Masterton Flyers never allowed themselves to be drawn into any unnecessary fights for Round, Day, or even Stage Wins as they were constantly focused on the bigger picture - winning the 2011 NZRC championship, and adding it to their 2005 and 2006 titles.
“The whole season was definitely about winning the championship. So the hardest thing this weekend [at Hawkes Bay] was going at a pace that was safe,” said Richard."We won a couple of stages when we needed to, and put ourselves right where we wanted to be to win both the weekend and the championship.

“We have had our focus purely on the championship the whole year and to achieve the goal we set is really fantastic. We’re over the moon about it. All of our sponsors have been very supportive and it’s great to reward their years of support with our third championship victory."

BNT General Manager, Greg Horne commented, "It goes without saying that we at BNT are very proud of the Team's success. And there is no doubt in my mind that the highlight of the year was Richard's drive at Wairarapa - Exceptional - particularly SS7 - Amazing!. We are already looking forward to next season...."

For the second year in a row at Wairarapa, Richard targeted Stage 7 - the 30km Puketoi Road - as a key test on which to make big gains on their opposition. Having successfully done so in 2010, this became all the more necessary this year after the turbo on the BNT Subaru blew on the first stage and the Masons found themselves 3 minutes behind the leaders.

In what has been described as one of the best comeback drives in the history of the NZRC, Richard and Sara spent the next day and a half at absolute maximum attack, as they stormed back up the leaderboard to ultimately claim victory. And their stunning performance is no better reflected by their run through Puketoi where they beat the field by a massive 50 seconds AND beat their 2010 stage record by 30 seconds..

"Wairarapa clearly showed that we had the pace when required, and we will remember it very proudly as one of our best ever drives," said Richard. "Hawkes Bay on the other hand needed a very different set of tactics - a careful start to ensure we didn't compromise our advantage in the series, yet fast enough to make sure our key opposition was kept behind us on the leaderboard.

"We safely negotiated the shortened first day and finished up an agonising 4 points away from the title," said Richard. " Then on Sunday, everybody had a few problems, including us. We kept just enough pressure on to win."

In fact, this country's top rallying couple didn't make it easy for themselves at all, as they both lost a significant asset as they blasted through the opening stage of Day Two on Sunday morning. Sara lost her voice while Richard lost his ability to grip the steering wheel after their BNT Subaru clipped a fence post, and the force of the impact on the left front wheel badly wrenched his thumb - so much so that there was concern that it could well have been broken.

"We were traveling really well through the first pass of Darky's Spur, heading for our planned 'Make a Break on the rest of the field' start to the day, when I told Sara to adjust a [pace] note for the repeat run later in the day. Unfortunately, that affected my concentration into the next corner and we clipped the fence post. Man, did it ever hurt..!!! I was wringing my hand for the rest of the stage as I struggled to get some feeling back into it and regain my composure. We must have lost at least 10 seconds in there, so it was great to still come away with 2nd fastest, just 2 seconds down on the stage winner.
"The [BNT Mason Motorsport] Team did an awesome job repairing the damage to the suspension and steering, and had us fully repaired and serviced and on our way without incurring any Penalty Time.
"So, with Sara losing not only the volume in her voice, but also the ability to put any infliction into her pace note delivery - which is what we find vital to emphasize key aspects of the approaching corners - and me having difficulty holding onto the steering wheel, it was a bit surprising that we still managed to win the longest stage of the rally [the 30km Waitara test] by 26 seconds."
By the start of the final 22km stage through the Mohaka Forest - a gnarly, technical test renowned for causing punctures - the Masons had built up almost a 3 minute lead on their NZRC opposition, so an ultra-cautious, stay in the middle of the road approach, saw the BNT Subaru safely through the Flying Finish to secure the rally win, and the championship for 2011.
"As much as my voice would allow, I was still calling all  the information in the [pace] notes," whispered Sara, "but there was no way Richard was going to risk anything, and coming 'down the shute' into the final Stop Control, with all our family and supporters cheering, was such an awesome feeling."
"It's been 5 long years since we last did this and we are SO rapt to be able to do it again - and finally in a yellow Subaru...."
Richard has now joined three of New Zealand's Rallying Legends as a Three Time National Champion - Tony Teesdale (1982, 1984 & 1987), 2011 NZRC Series Associate Sponsor Neil Allport (1986, 1989 & 1992) and Joe McAndrew (1993, 1994 & 1996), with only Bruce Herbert ahead of him now with his four titles (2000 - 2003).
Richard has also moved into a clear second place on the All-Time NZRC Round Winners' List with 19 Wins, 3 short of Neil Allport, while Sara's 16 wins sees her now just 1 behind 6 times Co-Driver Champion Rob Ryan.
Next on the BNT Mason Motorsport event calendar is the iconic Ashley Forest Rallysprint on the weekend of September 24 & 25, where Richard will drive [fellow BNT supported competitor] Jeff Judd's open class Subaru Impreza. This will be BNT Mason Motorsport's first visit to the Spiritual Home of South Island Rallying and Richard says he is really looking forward to competing in an event he remembers watching on TV as he was growing up in the 80's..
"The event is undergoing somewhat of a revival," said Richard, "and when Jeff and I had a chat before Hawkes Bay, it seemed an ideal way to have a serious go at this iconic venue and hearing since that Hayden [Paddon] will be there in [the late] Kim Austin's Mitsubishi Starion Hillclimb Special, makes this too good a chance to miss.."

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