"It was unbelievable," reflected Martin, "When we drove these stages [SS3-5] early this morning in practice, the roads were totally damp and there was no loose gravel at all. Two hours later and the sun had dried everything and there was gravel everywhere. We had the right tyres but starting second on the road was hard work. It looked promising for us this morning when everything was damp but then it was so slippery."
Loeb also lost time, and the Frenchman ended the day fifth, with Francois Duval sixth and Carlos Sainz seventh - only one minute covers the first seven drivers.
"My car is turning a bit too easily with the set-up I used," explained Loeb. "As a consequence I'm cautious in corners not to put the back of the car in the gravel on the sides of the road. I am not using the full potential of the car. I'm sure this will be solved tomorrow morning at the first service."
Mikko Hirvonen completed the top eight, the Finn pleased with his performance as he continues to try and get to grips with the Impreza WRC.
"It's been a very encouraging day," he said. "I'm happier with what I've achieved today than my performance on the first day in Mexico. Looking at the state of my tyres after the stages, my driving is less aggressive now and is more effective. I've still got some way to go before I have a rhythm that I'm totally happy with on these stages, but I'm encouraged and looking forward to tomorrow."
Daniel Carlsson meanwhile heads the 'independent runners', he is ninth overall in his Bozian prepared Peugeot 206, while Anthony Warmbold is the next best privateer, over 3 minutes behind.
In the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship [PCWRC] class Manfred Stohl leads – he is in 11th place overall and holds a slender 13.6-second buffer over Argentinean Marcos Ligato.
There were seven further defections today, bringing the list of retirements to 11 with 47 cars remaining for the start of the second leg tomorrow. The only significant retirements thus far, are the Mitsubishi's of Gilles Panizzi and Kristian Sohlberg, both going out Thursday night with electrical problems [prior to the start of SS2].
The second leg tomorrow returns to the Northland region for eight more tests in the same area as today. After leaving Auckland at 05.30, drivers face two identical loops of four stages, covering 138.84km. The action is then preceded by a second practice pass over the roads to be used later in the day. Competitors return to Auckland at 21.00 [all times local].