Stage data: SS1, Te Hutewai 1 (11.18 kilometres)
By Hayden Paddon’s co-driver John Kennard: “Tu Hutewai is a short, relatively typical New Zealand stage. There are some fast sections, some flowing parts and some really tight places too. It’s a really nice way to start the rally with some lovely scenery and a bit of everything.”
How the action unfolded:
Jari-Matti Latvala's choice of a lowly spot in the Brother Rally New Zealand start order proved absolutely correct on Te Hutewai, stage one of the event.
Amid fears of rain for Friday's opening day, both works Citroen drivers and Ford's Petter Solberg had opted to go early in the running order for leg one - contrary to usual practice in New Zealand where the roads tend to be among the most dusty of the season for those opening the stages.
With Friday dawning dry and clear, Latvala found 13th place on the road to be ideal, and came through to win the stage by 2.8 seconds over Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen and 3.5s over the #1 Citroen of Sebastien Loeb.
But Latvala's main concern at the end of the stage was the plight of his team-mate Petter Solberg, who was the only one of the frontrunners to opt for hard rather than soft tyres, and lost 18s, leaving him seventh.
"I know there are a couple of places where I went wide but it's OK. I'm more worried about Petter losing so much time on this stage," said Latvala. "I hope he won't suffer like that anymore. It's very difficult now for Petter on the next stage."
Prodrive WRC Team Mini driver Dani Sordo also ran hards, and was further slowed by a gear selection issue, putting him back in ninth place behind Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader P-G Andersson's PROTON.
Thierry Neuville, competing in the colours of the Qatar World Rally Team this weekend in Nasser Al-Attiyah's place, was fourth quickest in his Citroen DS3 WRC, ahead of M-Sport Ford duo Ott Tanak and Evgeny Novikov.
Outside the top 10, Jari Ketomaa lost half a minute after clipping a bank and sustaining a right rear puncture on his Autotek-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC.