What you missed from Friday in New Zealand

A Craig Breen crash, super close lead fight and changable weather punctuated the first full day of action


The moment World Rally Championship fans have been waiting for for 10 years has finally been registered: Rally New Zealand is firmly underway.

Round 11 of this year’s championship has created an element of the unknown for us here at DirtFish though, as it’s the first WRC rally to run in the eastern corner of the world since we launched our exciting media project back in 2020.

Our aim is to appeal to rally fans all over the globe, but as a Seattle-based Rally School with a media team predominantly living and working from the UK, we have a significant footing in these two territories. And for our European readers, viewers and listeners, digesting our wall-to-wall coverage may have been a bit trickier given the action all unfolded during the night and small hours of the morning.

That’s where this feature comes in. After each of the three legs that comprise this year’s Rally New Zealand, we’ll be running a ‘What you missed’ feature at a Euro friendly hour to allow you to catch up quickly and easily.

Of course, if you want to read all the individual stage reports who are we to stand in your way (you can do so here), but here are the highlights and main takeaways from the first day of New Zealand action – a day that made up over half of the event’s competitive distance.

Tänak leads by just 0.2s!

Three different drivers have led, but it’s the one who started Friday at the front of the field that ended it there: Ott Tänak. But it couldn’t be tighter, with just two tenths splitting him and second placed Elfyn Evans and only 7.2s covering the entire top four!

The only real drama of the day befell Craig Breen (more on that below) on what was otherwise a super-close day of competition.

As an example, Tänak, Kalle Rovanperä and Craig Breen all shared second-fastest time on SS3 while Tänak and Rovanperä matched each other on SS5.

Evans was the most consistent of the leading quartet as weather and road conditions played constantly for and against the others. But for it to be this tight after the longest day of competitive mileage this season is deeply encouraging for the remainder of the rally.

Wing-less Ogier third on his return

Sébastien Ogier had enjoyed a 5.6s lead after five of the day’s six stages, but he was up against to hold that on Friday’s final test.

Why? Running wide on a sweeping left hander, Ogier had shaved the rear wing clean off his Toyota and that loss of aero had a profound effect on the high-speed, flowing stages.


Ogier therefore dropped over 13s on Te Akau North to fall from first to third, but is well in the race with just a 6.7s deficit to Tänak.

While of course Ogier benefitted from a good road position (and it still feels strange to say that), he was still impressively on the pace – shrugging off the rustiness that naturally comes with not competing in three months.

Breen caught out on a McRae corner

Mimicking Colin McRae is never a bad strategy for a WRC driver, but mimicking one of his crashes isn’t quite the way to go about it.


Craig Breen had led the rally after SS2 and SS3 and was joint second as the crews headed for the tire fitting zone in Raglan, but had his eyes set on the lead as he pounded onto SS4, Whaanga Coast 2.

But not for the first time this year, Breen was caught out. Approaching a tight right-hander just after a cattle guard with a menacing bank on the outside, Breen came in too hot and was sucked down into the ditch.

With the help of spectators the car eventually was freed, but not before Breen and Paul Nagle had lost the thick end of 17 minutes. McRae made the very same mistake 20 years ago in 2002, but slid further off the road and into the trees.

“I know it’s a famous place, I know I shouldn’t be making all these mistakes, but it’s f****** tough,” Breen said.

Breen continued onto the road section to the next stage, Te Akau South, but was forced to retire from the rally anyway with a damaged clutch.

Greensmith’s first gravel stage win

Eight months after his maiden WRC stage win, Gus Greensmith chalked up his first scratch time on gravel – and did it on one of the most revered stages anywhere in the world: Whaanga Coast.

Greensmith outpaced Sébastien Ogier by a mere 0.4s to move into second place on the leaderboard in an M-Sport 1-2 with team-mate Craig Breen out front.


But this time it was up to his father, Charles, to create the epic of social media magic in celebration. In Monte Carlo we saw Gus and Jonas Andersson embracing in disbelief, while here we got a service park shot of Charles bouncing in his chair, arms aloft shouting “yeeaahhh!” before adding: “What a beautiful way to start the day.”

The twisty nature of the first stage of the loop played to the strengths of the Puma as Greensmith and Breen weren’t as close to the front on either Te Akau South or Te Akau North, but were competitive on the second pass of Whaanga Coast too before Breen ultimately went off and Greensmith battled a fogged-up windshield.

His tires died across the afternoon too and so Greensmith finished the day fifth, 43.8s off the lead.

Rovanperä’s title isn’t currently on

While Kalle Rovanperä has had a theoretical shot at lifting his maiden world title in both Belgium and Greece already, New Zealand presents him with his strongest chance by far as he can guarantee himself the championship with a maximum 30-point score.

Otherwise, collecting eight more points than Ott Tänak would be enough to seal the deal with two rounds to spare.

But as it stands, Tänak is set to make inroads into Rovanperä’s series lead for the fourth rally in a row. While the 2019 world champion leads the 2022 championship leader is fourth.

The rain came


The weather forecast this week had suggested rain would be on its way, but it was Saturday – not Friday – that appeared to be the best day to be donning the raincoat.

But raindrops on the windshield of Rovanperä’s Toyota as he set off onto Whaanga Coast illustrated that the heavens had opened and the stage conditions would be dry in places, but mostly damp.

An early birthday gift for Rovanperä perhaps – who’s 22 years old on Saturday – and a slap in the face for those lower in the running order like Ogier. But the outgoing champion wasn’t salty about his lot at all – quite the opposite.

“It’s a bit unlucky for us to see that [rain], but at the same time honestly it’s deserved for the frontrunner because you are working your a** off the whole year to score points and to do good results – I never understood why we should be disadvantaged leading the championship,” Ogier told DirtFish.

“At least for them, when this kind of weather is coming it’s deserved.”

The rain did wear off as the leg progressed though before intensifying again later in the afternoon, particularly on the penultimate stage. That was enough to keep the championship leader firmly in the mix, who benefitted from less extreme conditions on that test.

Neuville in a spin

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Thierry Neuville spun not once, but twice, across the morning’s loop of stage. Both his pirouettes on Te Akau South and Te Akau North owed to a lack of rear grip in his Hyundai – an issue that plagued him throughout the whole day.

Neuville’s blushes were spared on SS3 Te Akau South though as Toyota Next Generation driver Takamoto Katsuta made the exact same mistake through a quick left-right-left section that featured a bump on the right and unsettled the car.

Neuville recovered to sixth by the end of the day – back to being unhappy with life aboard his Hyundai after a more encouraging Acropolis Rally in which he won – while Katsuta ended Friday eighth.

Paddon leads WRC2


You perhaps didn’t need us to tell you this one, but Hayden Paddon leads the WRC2 class by a shade over a minute after the first full day – winning five of the seven stages of the rally so far.

But interestingly he is currently on course for his first WRC points since 2018, muscling his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 up into ninth overall.

“All in all a good day. Even though we’re not taking risks we’ve still had to work for it today because the conditions have been pretty tough,” he said.

WRC2 title hopeful Kajetan Kajetanowicz is second but perhaps the real story is that of Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen who’s third in class overnight.

A spin on the first pass of Te Akau North aside, it was a deeply impressive day from van Gisbergen on his WRC debut, who clearly enjoyed himself as he exclaimed “f*** yeah, that was f****** cool” immediately after crossing the final finish-line of Friday.

“What an awesome day! I’m just having a ball, living my dream,” he added at stage-end.

Local driver Ben Hunt was expected to be a frontrunner but struggled all day, battling with a mechanical problem early on before a high speed crash into a bank put an end to it all on SS7.

Words:Luke Barry