Kalle Rovanperä has moved onto the Rally New Zealand podium at the expense of team-mate Sébastien Ogier as Ott Tänak closed on Elfyn Evans for the rally lead.
Evans ended Friday in a narrow second place but started Saturday as rally leader following hybrid overboost penalties for erstwhile leader Ott Tänak, World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä (a rather unwelcome gift on what is his 22nd birthday) and Thierry Neuville.
Each driver was penalized five seconds for the indiscretion.
Rain had been a factor throughout phases of Friday and had well and truly returned for Kaipara Hills, making the test incredibly tricky and slippery – especially for the frontrunners.
Evans would be thankful for Tänak’s overnight time penalty, as he lost two seconds to the Hyundai driver to have his advantage reduced to 2.8 seconds out front.
But Rovanperä was the biggest mover, beating all of those around him by at least four seconds to move into third place, just six seconds down on the lead.
“Clean stage,” he said, “I tried to push, didn’t really feel fully confident with the rear in narrow places but other than that we are here, all good.”
Craig Breen returned to action as the first car on the road following his retirement from second place on Friday – running wide and sliding down the same bank that swallowed Colin McRae in 2002.
“I’d love to tell you that everything is all lovely and rosy, yeah the roads are beautiful and the car is good but my soul is still hurting after what happened yesterday,” he said.
Breen’s time was actually fiercely competitive on Kaipara Hills though – even though he was driving to simply avoid mistakes.
His road position was a large factor as grip was more compromised for those behind, Breen setting the pace by some 4.1s.
Despite his hybrid penalty dropping him 6.8s instead of 1.8s behind Gus Greensmith, Neuville relieved the M-Sport driver of fifth place on SS8.
“For me there was quite a lot of mud coming through, there was quite a low grip and it was a bit like Wales where the best place to be is first on the road because once you break through it you just get mud,” Greensmith explained.
Neuville countered: “It wasn’t the best run but it was not bad either, so we keep this rhythm and see what happens.”
Oliver Solberg felt his Hyundai was “too stiff” for the wet conditions so just “took it a bit steady” on SS8 – still gaining 4.9s on Takamoto Katsuta behind him.
Eighth placed Katsuta is now 18.6s adrift of Solberg and struggling to find any pace.
“I’m too slow, that’s it,” he said. “No speed, like yesterday, I just need to find where I can push.”