Arai leads as West and Mason do battle in rally

World championship leader Toshi Arai will take a one minute advantage into tomorrow’s final day of the Hella International Rally of Rotorua.

Arai (Japan), the current leader of the FIA World Production Car Championship (PWRC), showed his class in the soggy, testing conditions in the eastern North Island. The Subaru driver and his Kiwi co-driver Tony Sircombe won two of today’s three special stages in the rally which doubles as the third round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally championships and fourth round of the Parker Enzed New Zealand Rally Championship.

Provisionally Arai leads Masterton’s Richard Mason by 59.5secs with a further 2.8 seconds back to national championship leader Chris West (Auckland) with the Kiwi pair set for a monumental battle tomorrow.

It proved a dominating day for Subaru who fill the first three positions despite the final two stages predicted to favour the Mitsubishis contingent

Current Asia Pacific points leader Jussi Valimake (Finland) is fourth 1min 413sec behind the leader. Joint overnight leader Mark Tapper dropped back to fifth after losing power when he broke an intercooler pipe in the long and winding roads of the 47.8km Motu stage.

Arai, fresh from winning the latest round of the PWRC in Turkey, turned up the heat in the legendary Motu, coping with the testing terrain and worsening conditions to be 23 seconds quicker than Mason, who was next best. He extended his buffer to a minute with fastest time in the 32km stage five in Whakarau and from that point the rest of the field were left fighting for the minors.

“I was quite happy. It was very good today,’’ Arai said. “It was quite slippery in places today but I am very glad to be in the front of the field. The Motu stage was good but we had our spare tyre loose in the back which was quite distracting.’’

Mason and West continued where they left off in the previous championship round in Wairarapa, swapping second place at every stage today. Mason’s efforts in the Motu pushed him ahead of West for the first time before the national champion edged back ahead by just one second after SS5. Mason had the final say of the day when he claimed fastest time for the final 25km stage at Rakauroa to lead West by 2.8 seconds.

Mason was delighted with his form.

“It was fantastic today. There were absolutely no hiccups at all. I’m bouncing off the walls with that effort, but not literally of course.’’

Mason said he was looking forward to the battle with West for New Zealand honours tomorrow.

Arai, who was excluded from the first round of the Asia Pacific in Canberra, will be able to drive defensively in tomorrow’s final four stages close to Rotorua to pick up the overall honours as well as maximum points in the championship.

Valimaki, who won the last round in New Caledonia, is 1min 41secs from the lead but is likely to opt for a safety-first approach as he is 1min 15sec clear of third placed Katsuhiko Taguchi (Japan) for Asia Pacific points.

There was only one significant mishap despite negotiating some of the most demanding stages in world rallying and wet conditions. Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour, second in the national championship, went out after damaging the drive shaft 34kms into the Motu,

Provisional results:

Hella International Rally of Rotorua (after six special stages):

Toshi Arai-Tony Sircombe (Japan, Subaru) 1:54, 1; Richard Mason-Hamish Fenemor (Masterton, Mitsubishi Evo at 59.5s, 2; Chris West-Garry Cowan (Auckland, Subaru) at 1:02, 3; Jussi Valimaki-Jarkko Kallioepo (Finland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 1:41, 4; Mark Tapper-Jeff Judd (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 7) at 1:45, 5; Hiroshi Yanagisawa-Tadashi Misaizu (Japan, Subaru) at 2:35, 6; Sam Murray-Stuart Jenkinson (Palmerston North, Subaru) at 2:48, 7; Katsuhiko Taguchi-Mark Stacey (Japan, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 2:56, 8; Brett Martin-Raymond Bennett (Taihape, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 3:09, 9; Geof Argyle-Jane Black (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 3:45, 10; Dean Sumner-Jeff Cress (Rotorua, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 3:59, 11; Glenn Smith-Colin Smith (Hawera, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 4:36, 12; Dylan Turner-Sandeep Bansal (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 4:47, 13; Brent Taylor-Chris Ramsay (Cambridge, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 10:12, 14; Lee-Anne Barns-Erin Kyle (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 11:02, 15; Grant Barber-Bede O’Connor (Foxton, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 11:04, 16; Brian Green-Fleur Pederson (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 12:10, 17; Dermott Malley-Stephen Smith (Hastings, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 12:20, 18; Masahiro Nakajima-Naoki Kurosaki (Japan, Subaru) at 12:30, 19; Patrick Christian-Frederic Perraud (New Caledonia, Mitsubishi Evo 6) at 15:57, 20.


1 Toshihiro Arai-Tony Sircombe
We are happy and pleased to be in front today. It was a very good day.

4. Geof Argyle-Jane Black
A lot better. We realised at the last service that our tyres were not getting enough heat so we changes to a soft compound. A lot better times now. Shame we didn’t have any time to test this.

5. Chris West-Garry Cowan
The switch on the centre diff was the problem. So we’ve been driving rear wheel drive. I worked it out at the end of SS5 and fixed it before SS6.

6. Mark Tapper-Jeff Judd
Good through Whakarau. Not so good through Rakauroa. Scary moments when tyres not heating up. It was a bit dodgy really.

7. Richard Mason-Hamish Fenemor
Fantastic, no hic-ups. That is us for the day. Bouncing off the walls – not literally.

8. Sam Murray-Stuart Jenkinson
Got a puncture 4kms from the end and lost 30 sec on SS5. 6 – 8kms from the end of SS6 we had a spin and we had to turn around and go up the road again.

10 Glenn Smith-Colin Smith
A little bit better. The roads are a bit drier, not too bad.

11 Brett Martin-Raymond Bennett
Had wrong tyres on. We were on 195 but should have been 205. All good, both stages went fine.

14 Hiroshi Yanagisawa-Tadashi Misaizu
Very very slippery in SS6. We didn’t have any problems.

15 Dean Sumner-Jeff Cress
Not too bad. The car is good, but we are just running on Avgas. I have actually been surprised at how well it is doing.

16 Dylan Turner-Sandeep Bansai
Ahh. Lost a lot of time. Brake rotors have glazed over so will replace them. We had spongy brakes. In SS6 we got smoked by Glenn Smith, he bet us by 19 sec. I don’t know what went wrong, we were bouncing off the bank and everything. Going hard. We were just a bit untidy I think.

17 Patrick Christian-Frederic Perraud
Car ok. Times not ok.

18 Grant Barber-Bede O’Connor
Brake pedal felt lumpy. We baked off because we didn’t want to break a disk. That was towards the end.

19 Brian Green-Fleur Pedersen
Fast over both stages. Gear box still seems to be a problem. Will need to drain oil to see if there are any bits of metal. No noises yet!! May need to change gear box, but service crew to decide.

20 Chee Hong Kan-Bernard Chin
Just a cruise for us. But we’ve got no turbo but we are just driving back to repair.

21 Brent Taylor-Chris Ramsay
Got a puncture 10kms from the end of SS6. Lost about 1min 20sec, was going sweet until then.

22 Lee-Anne Barns-Erin Kyle
Good. No problems. The car is handling very well.

23 Dermott Malley-Stephen Smith
Boring, nothing wrong, lovely stage.

24 Masahiro Nakajima-Naoki Kuroosaki
Not so bad, not so good. Hard on brakes.

25 Masahiro Kunisawa-Simone Bachmann
Fun stage. No anti-lag in turbo so still dragging on the corners.

26 Fan Fan-Jun Wai Fang
Ran out of water in the radiator due to a hole in it.

30 Julian Lenglet-Karin Galinie
Good but it is wet. The tyres are not working like they should, in these conditions. But it is the same for everybody.