As the second day of Brother Rally New Zealand wrapped up, Masterton's Richard Mason has won a further five stages to extend his lead in the three-day event which counts as the fourth round of the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship, powered by Brother.
However Mason, the current series leader and defending champion, had plenty of pressure from Dunedin's Emma Gilmour all day and was also competing with no clutch after not being able to get it repaired during Friday night's service period. Friday's eight stages ended with a 51s margin in Mason's advantage, but Gilmour pounced early to win Saturday's opening test to narrow the gap to just 14s.
Christchurch's Matt Jansen continues in third position in the NZRC field overall, and third-best Group N four-wheel-drive or production category competitor, although he's a good five minutes adrift of Gilmour.
Despite the lack of a clutch Mason continued to set top times throughout the day, with Gilmour chasing him all the way.
Mason said: "It's been interesting... We've had no clutch for the whole day. Very challenging."
Timaru's Chris West was the only other NZRC driver to win a stage with the former New Zealand champion taking victory in stage 13, Brooks, during the afternoon.
But the final stage of the day was stopped due to a fire in the production-spec Mitsubishi of Swedish all-female pairing Ramona Karlsson and Miriam Walfridsson. They got out of the car without significant injuries and were given assistance by following competitors. Assessed times were calculated for some competitors who toured through stage before returning to service their vehicles in Auckland.
In contrast to Mason's challenging clutch-less day, Gilmour says her day was largely trouble-free.
"It's been good overall," said Gilmour. "We're still here, which is the main thing after having a few issues with the car this morning but otherwise it all went well this afternoon. So we're pleased with our progress and the good battle with Richard."
Saturday's stages, run over roads north of Maungaturoto and Paparoa, are familiar to the NZRC field. However the high speeds saw a number drop out. Early championship leader Alex Kelsey, from Coromandel, was able to complete just one stage again today - as the open class four-wheel-drive star did yesterday. An electrical failure meant the 19-year-old opted not to continue any further in the three-day rally.
Rotorua's Sloan Cox went out with rear suspension arm failure in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X while historic category leader Marcus van Klink suffered an engine malfunction in his Mazda RX7.
That left Tauranga's David Holder to fight with Nelson's Ben Hunt for 2WD honours. While not eligible for an overall rally position after not finishing yesterday, Holder did beat Hunt to win day two. Hunt, in a Ford Fiesta ST, remains the fastest 2WD car in the international category rally.
Mason, Gilmour and Jansen - all in Subarus - hold 13th, 14th and 15th overall respectively and are all ahead of the leading Production World Rally Championship driver Marcos Ligato, from Argentina, who holds 17th in another Group N 4WD, production-spec Subaru.
Sunday's third and final leg contains seven stages including a double run on tarmac around the Auckland Domain super special stage and four stages around Puhoi and Kaukapakapa north of Auckland.
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