Richard and Sara Mason are breaking all the records in New Zealand rallying. The husband-and-wife garage-owning team from Masterton have set new marks this year as they clinched Richard’s fifth New Zealand Rally Championship in their BNT Subaru WRX STI.
They won the first four championship rallies this season to claim the title with two rounds remaining.
Richard grew up in a car-oriented household, as his father Tom ran Tom’s Autos in Masterton. The couple have now bought that business from Richard’s parents and run it themselves, still under the name of Tom’s Autos.
Richard is the first driver to win five national rally titles, and Sara’s fourth co-driver title makes her first equal with Bob Haldane in that category. Richard’s total of 27 NZRC rally victories is another record.
The couple have been together for 10 years, and both say that their close relationship is a key to their success. Richard emphasises that Sara’s ability as a co-driver – helped by her experience as a fast driver herself earlier on – is a crucial aspect of the team dynamics.
The importance of a good co-driver is probably not appreciated by the wider public, but the Masons understand it completely.
Taihape 1998 was Richard’s first rally, driving a Ford Escort Mark 1 that broke its differential after the first stage. “The next rally that I did, a month later, was the Daybreaker Rally and it started on tarmac,” he recalls.
“We passed three cars in the first stage, and then the car broke down before the end of the first stage. I like to think you’ve either got a bit of a feeling [for cars] or you don’t, and without being cocky I’ve felt it’s been in me a little bit.”
Sara grew up in Nelson and got her first rally car when she was only 14. “It was an old beaten-up Datsun Sunny, but I worked really hard for it, and my parents put in the extra money and I got the keys on the Christmas tree!” she says.
“I did the New Zealand two-wheel-drive championship in a Toyota Levin in 2002 and 2003. In the first year we actually got second, which was pretty cool. And then I went to university and finding the budget to run at that level was pretty difficult.
“Along came Richard and he said, ‘Why don’t you give co-driving a go?’ For me it was always going to be something short-term till I could get a budget to drive again, but we’ve never looked back. It’s worked so well for us, and we really enjoy it.”
Their first season was 2005, and Richard won the championship, while Sara just missed the co-driver title because university exams forced her to miss one event. She was doing a double major in biological sciences and accounting at Massey, but in the end her rallying commitments did not allow her to finish her degrees.
They have rallied Subarus all that time. “From time to time we’ve had some support from Subaru, but that hasn’t really been the reason we’ve stuck with their brand of vehicle,” Richard explains.
“Maybe it’s just one of those things you get used to. We’ve spent so much time doing testing and development with their cars it just seemed natural that when we buy a new one we stick with that configuration. With all that knowledge you’re carrying with you it’s maybe a little bit easier to put it in the new vehicle.”
Subaru and Mitsubishi have always been roughly equal in performance, he says. It used to be said that the Subarus handled a little better in the tight going, but the Mitsubishis had a little more power.
“Mitsubishi have come a long long way in their handling. We haven’t felt we’ve had an edge in handling for a long time, but by the same token Subaru has come a long way with horsepower over the years, so for the most part things have remained relatively even between Mitsubishi and Subaru.”
The art of the co-driver is not as easy as it might appear, Richard says. “The co-driver is quite a significant part of making you go quick. A really good co-driver that you can be confident in makes a massive difference. I fully believe that Sara’s ability as a co-driver is bolstered by the fact that she’s been a driver.
“From that she understands what the tightness of the corner is, and she knows when a driver needs something, and when it’s a bad time to be speaking. There’s completely a timing thing about it.”
Sara agrees: “It’s been really important and valuable for the team for me to have had those years drivingm so I know how vital it is. I don’t want to have an accidentm and I half-own the car as well – a lot of co-drivers don’t have that same sort of vested interest in the car. I was quite academic, and that helps too, because you’ve got to focus for long periods. We’ve been together 10 years, and we know each other so well now, and we’ve just got this relationship that works.”
Would she like to drive again herself? “I would like to, but I don’t think I’d like to do it at the level we’re at at the moment. I’d be quite keen on just getting an old club car and having some fun. Something that didn’t cost a lot of money.”
Richard most enjoys the international rallies, for two reasons. First, there’s the satisfaction of matching or beating good overseas drivers in similar cars; and second, that means faster roads for him.
In New Zealand championship events he usually has to run at the front of the field, which means he encounters the thickest gravel and sweeps the road to the benefit of the drivers behind, but in international rallies he probably runs further down the field and the overseas stars sweep the roads for him.
“I do like international events for the fact that you get a good number of competitors and often on second passes [over the same stage] you really feel like you’re gaining a lot of grip. You get that feeling of speed at an international rally that you can’t really get at other ones in New Zealand.
“We’re quite fortunate in New Zealand in that a lot of the time we do get to run on fresh roads at every stage. There’s many places where you do two or even three passes over the same stage. We were in China and they based a whole rally on two roads – three passes in one direction the first day and two passes in the other direction on day two!”
BNTMason Motorsport is very proud to again have the support of BNT, Dunlop, B.W. O’Brien, ScottSpeed Performance Engines, Geartech, MCA Suspension, Hopper Construction, Race Brakes, Randall & Associates, Quality Foods and Tom’s Autos.
- Richard Mason has won the New Zealand Rally Championship a record five times: 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
- Sara Mason has won the NZRC Co-driver title four times: 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
- Richard won the NZRC Junior Championship in 2002 and 2003.
- Richard has won 27 NZRC rounds. The previous holder of this record was Neil Allport, with 22 victories.
- Sara has won 24 NZRC rounds, equal with Bob Haldane for the co-driver record.
- The Masons hold the NZRC record for most consecutive round wins – six – from Wairarapa 2005 to Rotorua 2006.
- The couple also hold the record for biggest winning margin in an NZRC Round– 8 minutes 21.7 seconds in the 2006 International Rally of Rotorua
- They are the only crew to have won every stage of an NZRC round in the last 10 years, and they have done that three times – 2006 Rotorua, 2008 Otago and 2014 Wairarapa.