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Chris West scored his second round win in a row, but defending champion Richard Mason is more in command than ever in the 2006 New Zealand Rally Championships after round four in the Hawkes Bay.

The pair won a heat apiece and tied for points on the two day event, but West secured the round win – by just 0.1sec – based on combined times over both heats.

Heat one belonged to Mason, in part due to a poor tyre choice by West which cost him almost half-a-minute over the opening stages of the day. Helped by a change of rubber for the afternoon stages, he fought back to within 14.7 seconds at the end of day.

Mason was fastest out of the blocks on heat two as well, but this time West found stage-winning pace far more quickly. Indeed, Mason only beat him once on a stage all day. When the final stage was run as a non-competitive section due to road conditions, both the heat victory and round win were West’s, the latter by just 0.4sec.

Winning today's second heat was the first objective," said West. "After that taking the overall weekend was a nice bonus."

West admitted to driving "pretty hard" all day. "I was a bit cautious on the first stage this morning," he said. "But after that we weren't holding back too much."

With West out of championship contention following his exclusion from the opening two rounds for a technical infringement, Mason’s strong performance would have enabled him to extend his championship lead, even without the problems that befell his closest rivals, Sam Murray and Emma Gilmour.

It was Murray who suffered most on this round for, having finished fifth on the first heat, he retired from the second after holing his radiator. Even so, he retains second place in the series, albeit now a massive 74 points adrift of Mason.

Gilmour started the Hawkes Bay event strongly, setting four top-three special stage times on the first heat and finished fourth overall for the day. Come Sunday’s second heat, though, she could only manage eighth after struggling throughout with a handling problem that was eventually traced to the transmission of the car.

“Saturday was awesome, both because the roads were great, and because my own times were so much closer to Richard and Chris,” she said. “I was really looking forward to Sunday after that, but in the end it was one of the most frustrating days of rallying I can recall.

“There was thick gravel on the first few stages which didn’t help, but the major problem was with the car itself. We had several spins on the first few stages, and eventually decided to change the gearbox towards the end of the day. In the circumstances, simply getting to finish was probably quite an achievement.”

With Murray and Gilmour both having their share of problems, the way was opened to Mitsubishi driver Brett Martin to shine, and it was an opportunity he grasped to the full. He won two stages outright on his way to third in heat one, and while unable to repeat his stage-winning form in heat two, was again placed third.

Martin’s strong run was sufficient to push him six points ahead of Gilmour in the series standings, but financial constraints mean this is likely to be his final event of the 2006 series.

Teenage championship rookie Hayden Paddon (Mitsubishi) also took advantage of Murray and Gilmour’s problems to finish fourth on national points for the weekend.

In the Kiwi 2WD class James Holder (Toyota) took the round win from Glenn Inkster (Honda Integra). Both closed the points gap on category leader Aaron Cook (Honda Jazz), who won the class on heat two, but retired from heat one. Former class champion Jason West (Suzuki Ignis) was fourth for the weekend and climbed to fourth in the series standings.

The next NZRC round is the Wairarapa Rally at the end of August,

New Zealand Rally Championship round 4, Hawkes Bay Rally, 29-30 July

Heat One NZRC Hawkes Bay Rally
1.    Richard Mason/Sara Randall (Subaru Impreza WRX) 1h39m14.9s
2.    Chris West/Garry Cowan (Subaru Impreza WRX) 1h39m26.2s
3.    Brett Martin/Raymond Bennett (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) 1h39m48.4s
4.    Emma Gilmour/Chris Cobham (Subaru Impreza WRX) 1h40m02.8s
5.    Sam Murray/Rob Ryan (Subaru Impreza WRX) 1h40m28.9s

Heat Two NZRC Hawkes Bay Rally
1. West 1h19m45.9s
2. Mason 1h20m01.0s
3. Martin 1h20m31.0s
4. Glenn Smith/Colin Smith (Hawera, Subaru Impreza WRX) 1h20m37.3s
5. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) 1h21m02.0s

NZRC Championship points after 4 rounds:
1.    Mason 237pts
2.    Murray 163
3.    Martin 156
4.    Gilmour 150
5.    West 123, 5.

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