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Subaru looks likely to win this year’s New Zealand national rally championship, the only question being which driver will come out on top.

The six round series starts with the Dunedin based Rally of Otago this weekend, where four of the top five seeds will be driving Impreza WRX STIs. They include Scotsman Alistair McRae who has been seeded fifth, and American Ken Block who will be tenth away.

Masterton’s Richard Mason will lead the field over the start ramp in a new 2006 model car his team has just finished building in search of a hat trick of titles.

“We’ll be feeling our way a little bit to start off with,” said Mason. “But I don’t expect the new car to be too much different from our old car.”

Mason is looking forward to competing against McRae again after locking horns with the former WRC driver in the China Championship last year.

“Alistair is certainly fast and he’s got a good car and team. It’s great for the sport to have such a high profile driver here.”

Mason reckons he has unfinished business at Otago, having finished second on the event on four of the five times he has contested it.

Sam Murray from Palmerston North is using the same Impreza he debuted last year and is hoping his summer of development will give him a lift in performance, after finishing third in the series last year despite two retirements.

“We’ve got bigger brakes and more power, and we’ve refined the chassis set up,” he said. “It’s a good position to challenge for the lead from.”

Murray is looking for “a good clean run” at Otago, before turning up the pace at the North Island rounds at Whangarei, Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa on roads that he believes suit him better.

Emma Gilmour certainly enjoys the roads of her home event, having led there briefly twelve months ago. Like Murray she is sticking with the same car she drove to fourth in the championship last year, but with help from triple Australian champion Cody Crocker, has carried out development on the centre and rear differentials over the summer.

“It slid around a bit too much last year and every now and again did the unexpected.”

Gilmour says she now has more confidence in the way the car performs and wants to be fighting it out at the front of the field on her favourite rally of the season. She will have the vastly experienced Glenn Macneall calling the pace notes, after he decided to retire from his WRC role as Chris Atkinson’s co-driver in favour of a season of NZ competition.

Two other Subaru drivers are competing in the championship for the first time and will be in the running for Rookie of the Year honours. Callum McInnes of Tauranga and Kirsty Nelson of Waiotira in Northland have both had a string of good results in regional North Island events. Nelson, who is still at school, will be the youngest driver contesting the championship, which finishes at Nelson in September.

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