Speed with caution is Mason’s recipe

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

Richard Mason says driving just fast enough to get the job done, and making sure he didn’t get any punctures were the keys to his victory in Leg 1 of the Scenic Circle Rally of Otago yesterday.

“We didn’t drive at 100 per cent all of the time. I really drove quite slowly in some of the rougher stuff.”

Mason had said before the start of yesterday’s heat that on some stages – notably the first test, Akatore – that sharp rocks could lead to punctures.

Which is what happened to his long-time rival Chris West who spent the rest of the day fighting back to fifth place when he might have been challenging for second or the lead.

“If Westy hadn’t got that puncture, he might have pushed us.”

It also happened to Kiwi 2 contender Aaron Cook who lost a crucial chunk of time to Dave Strong.

“I lifted off where I knew the rocks were and wen t a little slower,” Mason said. “I tried to keep the pace up without being silly over the sharp stiff where we might get a puncture. It paid off.”

He kept enough pace to win all seven stages, sharing the victory on the final, tarmac, test with West.

But Mason admitted to some anxious moments, especially after SS1 where he had tempered speed with caution about the rocky surface.

“I was a little bit anxious after the first stage. I wasn’t sure how the others would go. Someone might get a good run across that stuff.”

But no-one did, and Mason opened his account by building an instant gap to his most persistent pursuer, Hayden Paddon.

There were other anxious moments later in the day, like Special Stage 4, the Kai Forest, a test new to the event.

“”The (road) surface was really weird. The places that looked grippy were slippery, and the places that looked slippery were grippy.

“The car (the BNT Subaru Impreza WRX STi) felt as if it had a problem, and it took me a while to figure out it wasn’t the car, it was the road.”

Mason says today’s six-stage second leg uses more public roads than forest tracks.

“They’re generally stages that suite my driving style more.”

The first two tests, north of Dunedin, are new to the rally and include fast, smooth roads, big drops and lots of blind crests.

“They’ll be interesting. They go quite high (in altitude) and if there’s a frost they could be very icy. If there’s a southerly (wind) we might get snow up there.”

He says the day’s fourth stage, the 52km Duns forest test, will almost certainly have a major bearing on the results.

But Mason says his approach today will be much the same as yesterday – go fast enough to take the lead and hang on to it, keeping something in reserve.