Craig Breen leads Rally New Zealand after the first gravel stage, the famed Whaanga Coast test, but it was M-Sport Ford team-mate Gus Greensmith who was fastest.
It was Greensmith’s second ever stage win in the World Rally Championship after his first scratch time earlier on the Monte Carlo Rally earlier in the year. He claimed it by just 0.4 seconds over reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier.
Breen was third quickest, 1.6s down on his team-mate, but given he was second fastest on SS1 on Thursday, Breen leads the way by just 0.4s over Greensmith in an early M-Sport 1-2, with Ogier another two seconds further back.
On the eve of his 22nd birthday, Kalle Rovanperä was handed an early present as rain did fall before and during the stage, lessening his disadvantage as first car on the road.
The stage however wasn’t totally sodden as dry patches were reported in some sections. Acting as road sweeper was therefore still a hindrance as Rovanperä lost 7.4s to Ott Tänak who was the car immediately behind him.
But those behind Tänak were going even faster, as Tänak – the leader of the rally after Thursday’s superspecial – dropped to fourth overall, losing 5.8s to the Whaanga Coast stage winner.
Elfyn Evans completes the early top five which is split by just 6.4s.
Championship leader Rovanperä is already 13.3s off the lead – some of that deficit owing to a below par time on SS1 – 1.9s ahead of Thierry Neuville who had a difficult stage, falling from third to seventh overall.
He felt he had “no grip at the rear at the car, I had to be very careful and efficient”. But that didn’t explain why he lost so much time in the second split in particular.
Hyundai team-mate Oliver Solberg is just 0.1s adrift on the leaderboard, despite his car “losing power at times” as Takamoto Katsuta rounds out the works drivers after SS2 – 17.1s off rally leader Breen.