The overnight rain, feared by many of the drivers who had their opening day ruined by treacherous roads, thankfully did not materialise as the 63 remaining crews made their way out of their Auckland base and on to Waipu Gorge for the first of Saturday's nine special stages.
Overnight leader Francois Delecour had been one of the few drivers who had half been hoping for rain, thus nullifying much of the immediate disadvantage he was in, acting as road-sweeper for the others along the gravel filled roads.
Behind the Frenchman, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, lying sixth and eighth respectively, licked their lips at the prospect of finally being able to attack the stages on relatively clear roads.
As expected Delecour lost time to his followers on the opening eleven kilometre test and his lead had been pegged back to just five seconds by the end of the stage. However his closest pursuer was no longer Ford's Petter Solberg
who had taken things very cautiously, but his Peugeot team-mate Marcus Gronholm. Third onto the highly dusty road, the Finnish star threw caution to the wind and really laid into the stage. Numerous hairy moments and lurid powerslides followed but the result was a glorious time of 6 minutes 35.2 seconds, a mark beaten only by Richard Burns and (only just) Colin McRae.
If Peugeot had been concerned over team orders on the upcoming stages, they needn't have for on the very next stage Delecour ground to a halt with no gears available. Ten minutes were lost before the problem was solved and at that point, continuing on the event was pointless.
Delecour's demise was not only bad news for Peugeot, but also for Solberg who was now first on the road. Once again the Ford man lost time to Gronholm on stage ten and was 15 seconds behind the Peugeot man after just two of the days nine stages. There was also the small matters of team orders to consider as Carlos Sainz had now moved into third place and Colin McRae was flying and gaining ground on the leaders.
Coincidence or not, at the end of the eleventh stage, Solberg suffered a late mechanical drama and was forced to leave the service area two minutes late. This would have put Gronholm in the position of road-sweeper for the 59 kilometre stage at Parahi. However the rally officials insisted that the cars were to be sent out in their original order leaving Solberg with a 20 second penalty to add to his woes.
As the teams readied themselves for the longest stage on the Championship, Sainz had already moved himself into second place, albeit nearly a minute behind the sensational Gronholm who had posted third fastest time on all three of the days stages thus far, no mean achievement under the circumstances. However the men really on the move were Burns and McRae who had finished one-two in the first three stages of the day. As they prepared themselves for the mammoth test, the Subaru and Ford were just behind Solberg and gaining on the leader.
The result of the Parahi test looked strangely familiar at the top with Burns beating out McRae by seven seconds after more than half an hour of intense driving. Once again Gronholm clung on for third place, 15 seconds behind the second placed Focus although his lead had now been reduced to a mere 19 seconds.