Martin Prokop has taken charge of the Production Car World Rally Championship class after arch-rival Mirco Baldacci stopped with mechanical problems.
Prokop had been launching a fine comeback after a tardy start on the first leg, getting the gap down to less than two seconds ahead the long Te Akau stages as Baldacci struggled with gearbox woes.
However, any hope of a thrilling battle came to an abrupt end when Baldacci, who has led the way since SS2, was finally forced to stop as the gearbox gave up completely. His misfortune plays into the hands of young Prokop though, the Czech driver commanding a 1min 18secs lead over Patrick Sandell heading into the final leg.
“It's a shame for Mirco, it was a very good fight,” Prokop said. “This is the way it goes sometimes. The stages this afternoon were really fast in places. I enjoyed them, but it's still quite hard to judge how quick we can go. This is the first time I have driven these kind of stages in this car.”
Second place should have belonged to Evgeny Novikov, the Red Bull backed 17-year-old having a superb rally to move up to third place, only for transmission woes to drop him out of the running. Fumio Nutahara, who was third after day one, was another to fall away when he stopped in the morning.
As such, former Junior World Rally Champion Sandell moves up into second place after prevailing in a fight with Estonian Martin Rauam.
“What a day!” he exclaimed. “I've really found my rhythm today. It's been very good for me. We've had no problems, except for a heavy landing after flying a little further than expected over one jump this afternoon.”
Hayden Paddon isn't far off the podium fight either in fourth, but is concentrating on securing New Zealand Rally Championship points. Stewart Taylor is fifth, ahead of Jari Ketomaa.
Championship leader Andreas Aigner, who lost six minutes on the very first stage following two punctures, endured another troubled day and is currently in 14th place.