Motorsport: Early start for last rally round
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Front-runners confident, but face strong challenge from young up-and-comers
The final round of this year's New Zealand Rally Championship is this weekend at the Daybreaker Rally on the gravel roads around Taihape.
This year's Daybreaker Rally has a touch of its old format. The original started at midnight and, in a nod to the past, this year's event starts at 4am and finishes late in the day at Palmerston North.
Richard and Sara Mason may have already wrapped up national rally title number five, but they have a point to prove this weekend.
A rare DNF in the previous round on the Coromandel Peninsula ended a record-breaking run of 16 stage wins in a row and a possible clean sweep of six rally wins. But it has been 10 years since cars in the national championship have attacked the roads around Taihape, and Mason is one of only a few drivers with experience of them.
"I have very fond memories of the old Taihape rallies," said Mason. "That's where I got my first outright rally win, in the Evo3 [Mitsubishi Lancer] I had back in those days.
"They are awesome stages and will be a real challenge, especially those early ones in the dark and just after dawn.
"We were very disappointed to be forced to stop [in the last round]. We were driving well within ourselves and at a pace that had us comfortably in front, so there's no reason we can't replicate that form this weekend ."
But drivers in the chasing pack will also be keen to end their seasons on a high.
Find of the season David Holder has a narrow three-point lead over Ben Hunt with Matt Summerfield 16 points back.
Lance Williams, Graham Featherstone and Phil Campbell are also all within touching distance of snatching a season-ending podium finish if the others falter.
A field of 42 cars will line up this morning for two stages that will take them north from Palmerston North to the first service and breakfast at Taihape. Further stages to the west and south of Taihape are covered including the longest test at Pakihikura (42.8km).
The 24km final stage is the challenging Ridge Road, after which the cars return to Palmerston North in the late afternoon.
SuperTourers' ready to roll
NZ SuperTourers takes to the Taupo Motorsport Park track this weekend for the first endurance round.
During the off-season many Kiwi regular drivers have been negotiating with compatriots across the ditch. While not many main game V8 Supercars drivers are making the trip, local favourite Shane van Gisbergen will be there, as will Jack Perkins, Chaz Mostert, Dale Wood and Tim Slade .
They'll be joined by part-time Aussie drivers Steve Owen, Shae Davies, Tony D'Alberto and Paul Morris as co-pilots with the Kiwis.
Also in the field are former New Zealand V8 champions Paul Manual, John McIntyre and Angus Fogg.
New-generation Kiwi tin top drivers such as Simon Evans, Richard Moore and Ant Pedersen will be looking to take one of the biggest scalps in New Zealand V8 racing this season.
Four-time Bathurst winner Greg Murphy has every intention of retaining his crown and, with Perkins sharing driving duties, they'll be a formidable pair.
They won't be having it all their own way, though, especially from the pairing of Evans and van Gisbergen.