by Chris Grant
The BNT Subaru of current New Zealand Rally Champion Richard Mason will be the lead car in a three pronged attack by Richard Mason Motorsport on some of New Zealand’s – and World Rallying’s – most famous stages, when the Hella International Rally of Rotorua (Round 3 of this year’s FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC))runs this weekend – May 27 & 28.
Mason will be joined in the 40 car International field by Hamilton’s Todd Bawden, who will again drive the 2005 New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC) winning Subaru Impreza – Regn ‘BYACAR’ – having experienced a mixed return to the sport at the opening round at Otago three weeks ago, after 18 months away.
Fellow Hamiltonian, Kevin Honiss will be the top seed in the 30 strong Clubmans’ section in Mason’s all-conquering Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evo5 – probably one of the most powerful cars in the event, and still the holder of the outright stage record, set in 2002, on the world renowned 33 kilometre long Whakarau stage.
Mason is very pleased with the way the BNT Subaru performed in the history-making result at Otago, and after further testing and development work, Richard is very confident ‘EVOETA’ has more to offer.
“We had a couple of issues at Otago, one with the brakes and the other with our pace on some of the really flat out sections, but overall this car was very good for a first outing, and we know what we have done since Otago should suit us at Rotorua, especially when we will be on roads we thoroughly enjoy and know very well. So that should give us the best possible shot at repeating last year’s outright podium finish.” [in 2005 Richard finished 2nd overall to the current PWRC Champion Toshi Arai].
“Both Todd and Kevin have had an opportunity to spend quality time in their cars in a very productive test session, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Todd really mixing it with the rest of us at the sharp end of the NZRC field on roads he loves just as much as we do.”
“I sat in with Kevin and very soon had all the great memories flooding back of just how awesome the TOM’S AUTOS Evo5 was – and still is – and certainly with it in Clubmans’ spec [with a 36mm turbo restrictor now fitted] and the way Kevin was throwing it around, even given a half decent run, he is going to be very hard to peg back.”
Under new FIA regulations governing the APRC, all competitors in that series must start each day as a group ahead of all others. So with 9 crews entered, Richard and Co-Driver (and now Fiancee) Sara Randall, will run as the second NZRC car and start as 11th car on the road. Therefore if the weather doesn’t get too bad later this week they can look forward to near perfect swept road conditions for their assault on such quality stages as Manawahe, Motu, Whakarau (twice this year) and Rakauroa.
“Rotorua came good for us in 2005 after some character-building results on previous outings, so this year it is very important that we do it again and especially for Sara who missed this rally last year – and the Co-Driver’s Championship as a result – due to university exams.”
Coincidentally this will be the third international rally since the Masterton-based couple joined forces at the start of last year – after two outings in the Chinese Rally Championship – and it will be the third time they have #11 as their competition number.
“Both times in China we have had mechanical issues, so we are definitely looking for #11 to be third time lucky this weekend….”
The Hella International Rally of Rotorua officially starts on Friday evening at 6pm with a Ceremonial Start at City Focus in the centre of Rotorua, as part of a Motorsport Show at the same location that commences at 1pm. This Rally is another ideal opportunity for NZ’s best rally teams to take on leading crews from Australia, Japan, France, Indonesia and China and the high speed action starts from 630am on Saturday as the crews begin the long trek across to Matawai deep in the Waioeka Gorge – calling in along the way to contest the Manawahe and Stanley Road stages, and after a Refuel at Opotiki, Motu, Whakarau and Rakauroa lie in wait. The survivors will return to the Village Green, on the lakefront in Rotorua, from 830pm for the overnight rest halt, before heading out again from 630am on Sunday to traverse a loop of three stages (twice – with a Village Green Service in between) in the area to the north of Lakes Rotorua, Rotoiti and Rotoehu. The Ceremonial Finish and Prizegiving will be back at the Village Green from 3.30pm.