Third place in the Targa NZ Rally classic class looms for Foxton driver Bevan Claridge, as long as he can avoid any mishaps.
The five-day rally resumed yesterday with drivers travelling from Taupo through Mangahoe and past Marton's infamous "Cop Corner" en route to an overnight stop in Palmerston North.
The corner has claimed its fair share of scalps during the rally's 18-year history, but most made it through the stage unscathed.
The 1999 BMW M5 touring car of Raymond and Chris Dufton, however, found itself stuck bonnet-first in a creek after being caught out by the corner's loose gravel - sliding down the bank to a watery end.
Claridge and co-driver Jason Easton were relieved to have remained accident-free in this year's race, but there have been a few close calls.
"We almost went down a bank during the Whangamomona stage.
"The tyres were a bit hot, the brakes failed a bit and we went straight ahead instead of around the corner," Claridge said.
"Luckily the council had been doing some work on the corner so the ground was soft enough to back out."
They were almost caught out on Cop Corner when they approached it at high speed - managing to straighten the car through the gravel with no consequences.
Third place would be a "pretty big achievement", said Claridge, but catching the cars leading the classic class would be a tough ask.
"The two cars in front of us are quite a bit faster than us - we just need to mind our business and try and cement third by making no mistakes."
Claridge and Easton's 1992 Holden Commodore holds a 3-minute lead over fourth-placed pair Bernie Hiestand and Jilly Hutson.
The battle for the overall Targa Rally crown was heating up after Auckland pair Glenn Inkster and Spencer Winn, in their Mitsubishi Evolution 6, took the lead back from the Australian-based pair, and three-time Targa champions, Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillett.
Inkster and Winn held a slender 15-second lead over Quinn and Tillett after gaining time on the third stage in Mangahao.
Quinn, a Queensland-based expatriate Scot, was confident they could add a fourth Targa title to their collection if they drive smart.
"We're still there; as long as you're only 20 or 30 seconds back you're in with a chance."
Co-driver Tillett said today's stage would suit the pair's 2008 Nissan GT-R35, a car they have won three Targa Rallies in a row with.
"The stages are longer and the roads are wider which suits our car.
"We'll be able to get close to the 200kmh limit on those roads."
Their mentality for the next two days is simple.
"From the time the starting gates open we are not stopping until we are in front," Tillett said.
"Tomorrow is the key day to take the lead."
Manawatu drivers Richard Ramson and Adam Lyall had slightly different goals for their Targa Rally.
"We've been pretty well-behaved so far.
"Last year we did some soil sampling during the stage through Dannevirke and going around Cop Corner so it's nice that it's still running well."
Ramson said there was a bit of jubilation when his 84 Ford Sierra made it through Cop Corner untouched as well as going 29 seconds quicker than their first run.
When asked how much money he had put into his machine, Ramson was coy. "We don't really like to talk about that, it's about three of the wife's holidays," he joked.
The race was to continue through Pohangina and Taihape today and conclude in Havelock North on Saturday.
"We just want to hold out and get to Havelock North in one piece and enjoy a beer," said Ramson.
- © Fairfax NZ News