But then came the first run through the Whaanga Coast test, and disaster for Loeb who ran wide on a fast right-hander, sliding off the road in thick gravel and charging through shrubbery before coming to rest against a small tree. He got going again but had lost 30 seconds and dropped from the lead to fourth place, 21.7 seconds behind leader Ogier.
“It was a bit more gravelled than what I expected and I lost control of the car,” Loeb said. “Then, the second pass through, I really tried again because we were not so far from the lead and finally I had another spin – maybe pushing a bit too hard.”
Both Latvala and Hirvonen had been in strong form in the day's opening tests, Hirvonen winning the first and finishing second in the other. Latvala, meanwhile, had been pouring the pressure on to Ogier and was now in second place. 5.6 seconds behind. Loeb won the morning's third test, the second run through Te Hutewai, with Ogier second and edging the gap over Latvala to 6.2 seconds. The rally would be decided on the final stage, Whaanga Coast 2.
Ogier said second place was still a 'very good result' but conceded it was 'a bit frustrating'. “I did another spin and I lost 10 seconds. With that, I lost first place,” he added. “For sure it was big disappointment to lose my first victory like this but it doesn't really matter if I continue in this way I will have a victory soon, so it's a good result.”
Fifth-placed Hirvonen said it had been a difficult weekend: “Really difficult. In the end we managed to get two positions today and we got good (manufacturers') points for the team,” he remarked.
After being day one's overnight leader, Petter Solberg was still in a strong position to push for his first win in his privately-entered Citroen as day three started. He won the first Whaanga stage in a time that was 23 seconds faster than Ogier's and went into Whaanga 2 in third place, just 16.8 seconds behind the Frenchman and 10.6 adrift of Latvala. Solberg was pushing hard when he slid off the road, hitting a power pole and bringing down a power line. His Citroen ended up in a ditch with its nose badly damaged and Solberg's rally was over.
In the Super 2000 World Rally Championship meanwhile Ford scored a clean sweep, with Jari Ketomaa finishing eighth overall, leading home the similar Fiesta S2000s of Xavier Pons and Martin Prokop.
With a big lead over Pons, Ketomaa said he had just driven to finish on today's four stages: “Trying to keep the rhythm and drive slowly, it's not easy to go like that. The first stage was a little bit bad from my side but after that I started to go very well.”
New Zealand rally champion Hayden Paddon won the Production World Rally Championship category in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX finishing 14th overall. He also took the first New Zealander crown, claiming for the second time in succession the coveted Woolf-Whittaker Trophy. His main opposition, former PWRC world champion Toshi Arai and double New Zealand champion Richard Mason, both fell out of contention on day one. Paddon finished just over three minutes ahead of fellow Kiwis contesting the PWRC class Emma Gilmour and Kingsley Thompson.
Aside from worries about a faulty clutch during today's stages, Paddon had a trouble-free run. “It's been an absolute dream weekend and we got the result we wanted. What more could we ask for?”