IT'S hard to imagine a teenage love of car racing games could lead to a successful rally racing career but that's exactly what has happened for Masterton mother Sara Mason.
The 28-year-old's latest co-driver win places her equal to top Kiwi rally co-driver Bob Haldane with 24 round wins notched on to her bonnet. She and husband Richard have five New Zealand championship rally titles to their name.
"[Bob] used lots of other drivers to achieve that. I've only used Richard," she says.
Sara giggles recalling how it all started when she was just a teenager playing PlayStation games.
"It's quite a funny story. It all started when I was about 13. I had no family involved in it. It was just a matter of playing PlayStation; Gran Turismo and from then on it became my absolute passion."
Her parents gave Sara her first rally car for a Christmas present as a 15-year-old and she's never looked back, she says.
"So I set up racing myself. With L plates on even. I did several years as a driver."
Her best result, second place in the New Zealand two-wheel championship in 2003.
Then she headed to university taking the cost of the sport out of reach for Sara.
In stepped rally driver Richard Mason, who became her husband five years ago; five years into the relationship. The couple have a 4-year-old son Khalid and they share care of Richard's 11-year-old twin daughters from a previous relationship.
He needed a co-driver and she needed to quench her thirst to be flying around gravel roads at speed.
"Richard came along and said 'hey you can jump in the car with me' and that was that. The first rally we won and we have never looked back from then on," she says. It's an extremely close relationship both on and off the gravel roads.
The couple took their record fifth New Zealand title proving they are a class act when it comes to rally racing as their performance continues to bear fruit. That win was captured two weeks before the final race of the series finished, topping off a fantastic year, Sara says.
"Two rounds to go and we have already won it. It was a great year."
They are sponsored by BNT and their most avid long-term supporter was its chief executive Greg Horne who died this year. They have driven on in his memory, Sara says.
"He'd been with us nine years. He was a massive supporter watching every event. He gave us something to strive for this year. His last words to us were, 'I've got to get better because we've got a championship to win this year'," she says. "I guess perhaps that's some of the reason we have had such a good year because we have been focused on doing it for Greg."
They took national titles in 2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012 as well.
Sara has snatched co-driving titles four times; 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2014. She lost the 2005 title by one point (because of university exams during one round).
"They all merge into one."
It's not an easy road for them though and it's all because of their close relationship, Sara stresses, as she makes her way to the top of the navigating field.
She admits navigating isn't a walk in the park.
"It is quite difficult. You have