By Chris Grant
Double New Zealand Rally Champion Richard Mason's third tarmac appearance in four weeks was cut short at the Quality Hotel Plymouth Taranaki Tarmac Rally last Saturday - July 7 - when broken front and rear axles saw his blue BNT Subaru 'BYACAR' grind to a halt midway through special stage 5.
Richard and Co-Driver Sara Randall - seeded at 3 in the 95 car field - were running in a comfortable second place after the first 3 stages, just 9 seconds behind eventual winner Glenn Inkster, and 24 seconds clear of third when the mechanical gremlins struck.
"It was actually about halfway through stage three that I felt the car get real 'twitchy' and I initially thought we had a puncture. We pressed on at a reduced pace
and I was staggered to find that we had 'cruised' for the last 13k and still came away with the second fastest time and were still second overall."
"All the tyres were fine, so it had to be a drivetrain problem and once we got back to service we found it was a part in the front axles that had let go. None of us can remember that particular piece ever breaking before, so no one had a replacement which meant we were going to have to run the rest of the day with only rear wheel drive."
A serious lack of brakes, resulting in a drop to third overall after stage 4, turned into retirement in stage 5 as the BNT Subaru flew over a crest but, unfortunately, a heavy landing led to a rear axle snapping and the wounded BYACAR ground to a halt.
"It was a real shame, because we were having a great time, thoroughly enjoying ourselves and the car was going really well; but when you break a front and a rear axle at the same time you go nowhere once you get to an uphill section - so unfortunately that was that."
"However, as always, you have to take the positives out of every situation and we have certainly learned an awful lot in the last month about car setup and driving competitively on tarmac.
"All this will stand us in good stead for our future outings on the 'black stuff'. In fact we might even take a look at doing the Dunlop Targa in the future."
Although the NZRC is in a two month break at present, New Zealand Rallying's top team's hectic schedule continues unabated, as they now head straight back up to China for the third round of the China Rally Championship next weekend - July 14 & 15 in the Guizhou province - the round they first went to in 2005.