Martin Prokop is celebrating his maiden Production WRC victory after sustaining his healthy gap back to his rivals on the final day of competition in New Zealand.

Prokop assumed a lead of over a minute on Patrick Sandell when erstwhile leader Mirco Baldacci was forced out with gearbox problems.

With just the need to protect a healthy margin over the day's five stages, Prokop was able to emerge back at the service park a 36secs winner over Sandell and Martin Rauam.

An eventful rally for the Production runners, the victory was thrown wide open when favourites Andreas Aigner and Juho Hanninen hit problems on the very first stage and couldn't make up the lost ground.

However, while Baldacci, Fumio Nuthara and Evgeny Novikov spent much of the first day annexing the top three, not one of the trio would eventually reach the finish.

As such, Prokop was able to capitalise, the Czech driver, who also competes in the Junior Championship, overcoming his run of bad luck this year to finally break his duck driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX.

"I was taking it steady today, but that's not as easy as you might think," he said. "When you have a lead like I did it's quite hard to drive carefully and not make a mistake. When you're not driving aggressively the car feels different."

"Before the rally we decided we weren't going to push too hard from the beginning - that we'd wait and see what happened to the others - and it turned out to be a good strategy.

"The others made many mistakes on Friday's first stage - and we did too - but we were lucky it was nothing too bad. From then on we tried to go faster and faster. We got very close to Baldacci, but after his mistake for us it's been fairly straightforward."

Despite his charge on the final leg, Sandell had to settle for second place, while Rauam rounded out the podium for his best result of the season too.

Local driver Haydon Paddon recorded a well deserved fourth in class, just ahead of a recovering Hanninen, whose perseverance paid off with fifth place and four points. He is now just four points adrift of championship leader Aigner, who failed to finish.

Jari Ketomaa finished sixth, despite a roll, with Bernardo Sousa seventh and Stewart Taylor in eighth

Just two rounds of the championship remain, although with many choosing to pass the Japanese Rally (Aigner, Ketomaa, Sandell and Prokop won't compete), the title showdown is likely to go all the way to the Rally of Wales.