It wasn't the perfect day for Hayden Paddon at Rally New Zealand, but it was enough to give him a healthy advantage in the S2000 World Rally Championship class.
The 25-year-old opened a big lead in the category immediately below the top level – as his main competitors, Proton drivers Per-Gunnar Andersson, of Sweden, and Scot Alister McRae, both suffered mechanical failures.
A new battery got McRae, brother of former WRC champion Colin McRae, going again but he had lost a lot of time.
Paddon then encountered his share of problems with his Skoda Fabia as the gearbox started to fail and he nursed it home.
"We're taking it very easy.
"We have lost second gear but it's gone through the whole gearbox so we're just trying to nurse it."
He survived to finish 12th outright but had been inside the top 10 overall earlier in the day which was his goal from the outset.
Fortunately, his team should have been able to fix or replace the gearbox overnight.
Masterton driver Richard Mason is one place behind and is leading the New Zealand Championship contenders by 51 seconds with Dunedin's Emma Gilmour second.
Timaru's Chris West had no luck with mechanical problems coming back to haunt him.
On the second stage he broke the diff in his Mitsubishi and carried on, but it eventually seized.
West hopes to be back in action today, but is bitterly disappointed.
"We were good in the third and fourth stages considering what we had, but had to call it quits after the second service.
"It's not what we wanted at such a big event but we can still potentially salvage some points."
World Rally Championship Citreon drivers Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen took a solid grip on at the front of the rally as Ford challenger Jari-Matti Latvala lost four minutes tangled in a fence.
At the end of the first day's 210 kilometres of stages in the Waikato eight-times champion Loeb led Hirvonen by four seconds, although Hirvonen had been in front most of the day.
Latvala had won the first of the eight stages, but drifted back to be 25 seconds off the lead after six stages. Then came his disaster, compounding the miseries of a season affected by crashes and injury from a skiing accident.
"This is unreal," the distraught Finn said.
"Nothing works this year. I just came in on a tight corner. It was OK, was a bit soft on the inside so the front right wheel touched something, maybe a hole or something and then suddenly the car spun.
"So I tried to do the correction but unfortunately it spun on the side and went into the fence and got stuck in the fence. I had to ask a man to cut the wires so very very disappointing. I don't have the words for this."
Meanwhile, Latvala's Ford team-mate, former world champion Petter Solberg, of Norway, struggled through the first four stages as he had chosen tyres that proved to be too hard for the sometimes muddy conditions.
In the afternoon he fitted softer tyres and advanced from seventh to fourth, one minute and 39 seconds behind Loeb and eight seconds behind third-placed Russian Evgeny Novikov in an independent Ford.
Leader Loeb said tyre choice could become an issue as most teams have used at least eight of their allotment today and they could run out of new soft tyres if conditions remain damp.
The big lead enjoyed by the Citroen duo already raises the question of team orders.
In Argentina this year when Loeb was a few seconds ahead of Hirvonen on the final day the team decreed that they should both slow down and finish in that order, to avoid the risk of crashing while trying too hard to win.
Today's second leg takes in 143km of competitive stages between Auckland and Whangarei.
- © Fairfax NZ News