Stage data: SS7, Te Akau South 2 (31.82 kilometres)
By Hayden Paddon’s co-driver John Kennard: “Te Akau South is a very fast stage and much more open that the two stages in the earlier part of the day. It has some nice roads, but for the S2000 cars, it maybe a little bit too fast. We will certainly be on the rev limiter for quite a few parts of it.”
How the action unfolded:
Jari-Matti Latvala's bid for Brother Rally New Zealand victory appears to be over after a mistake on the second run through Te Akau South cost him four minutes and dropped his Ford Fiesta RS WRC from third to ninth place.
The Finn was trying to push to catch the leading Citroens on the two Te Akau stages after saving tyres earlier in the loop, but became entangled in a fence after a 'cut' on the inside of a corner went wrong. Latvala needed help from spectators to get going again, and eventually finished the stage 4m47s behind the leaders.
Sebastien Loeb was fastest on the stage, responding to his rally-leading Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen's stage six pace by taking three seconds out of the Finn's lead on Te Akau South. The gap between the two Citroens is back down to 4.6s going into the final stage of leg one.
Latvala's error has elevated M-Sport Ford driver Evgeny Novikov to third place, but the Russian will have to keep an eye on flying works Ford World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg, who moved ahead of Novikov's team-mate Ott Tanak on stage seven and is now within 19.2s of third.
Thierry Neuville (Qatar Citroen), Dani Sordo (Prodrive Mini) and Armindo Araujo (Portugal Mini) occupy positions six, seven and eight, while behind the delayed Latvala a battle for 10th is brewing as Monster Ford driver Ken Block raises his pace and closes in on Brazil World Rally Team's returnee Manfred Stohl. Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader Hayden Paddon is close behind the two Ford World Rally Cars but is now nursing gearbox issues.