World champion Petter Solberg will take a five second lead into the second full day of the Propecia Rally New Zealand on Saturday.
Solberg regained the lead with fastest time in both runs at the Manukau Super Stage tonight to retake the overall advantage from Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera in the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
"I'm happy, we've had no major problems at all today," said Solberg, "The new tyres from Pirelli have been very good, perhaps they were a little too soft on the long section [SS7], but I'm very happy with the general set up. We've had a good battle with Harri today, but Leg one is just a warm up. We'll see what happens tomorrow, that's when the real rally starts."
Rovanpera had claimed the lead after the final stage of the first day in the Kaipara region today when he won the rally's longest leg, the 48.21km special stage named Possum.
The Finnish driver laboured on the first run, special stage 8, on the second night at the Manukau Super Stage though and he lost 4.4 seconds to Solberg - he was the slowest of the eight remaining World Rally Championship drivers. He improved to be second to Solberg in the second run, but will begin the second day in the Kaipara tomorrow behind the Norwegian world champion.
"I really enjoyed today. I had a very good feeling with the car and I was able to push hard," noted Rovanpera, "It's been really fun to lead the rally, and we've been on the pace from the very start. I really like long stages and we were flat-out on all of SS7, which was 48 kilometres. I decided not to risk anything on the super-specials, so I think we are in a good position for tomorrow. I'm not changing anything on the car: it's perfectly fine as it is."
Rovanpera's Peugeot team-mate and defending champion Marcus Gronholm retained third place, but is just 0.2seconds ahead of Ford's Markko Martin, the joint championship leader. Gronholm had been leading until SS6, when he rolled near the end.
"It [my roll] was a stupid mistake," said the double world champion, "My car went up onto two wheels in the same place last year, but this time we unfortunately went over. Some spectators eventually pushed us back, but we lost more than 30 seconds. It's disappointing, as we certainly have the pace to be in front. But there's still a long way to go and the car set-up feels good. We'll keep pushing!"
Martin meanwhile struggled all day, as like fellow championship front runner, Sebastien Loeb, he ran at the head of the pack, sweeping away the lose gravel, something which was especially problematic during the morning's first loop of tests.