Chris Atkinson's promising start to the Rally New Zealand has come to an abrupt end after he rolled into retirement on SS4.

The Australian had been posting times just off the leading Fords and Citroens through the first loop of stages when he crashed off whilst braking for a downhill section.

Losing control of his Subaru Impreza, Atkinson slid into a ditch, rolled over and heavily damaged the left-side of the car. Despite landing on its wheels and carrying on, Atkinson was forced to park up and retire a short distance from the finish line when the engine cut-out.

It remains to be seen whether Atkinson will continue to race through the SupeRally system, although - provided Subaru can fix it in time - it is likely they will treat the remainder of the event as a precious test session.

Meanwhile, Matthew Wilson joined Ford counterpart Henning Solberg in struggling with mechanical problems, the Brit picking up a transmission problem and dropping out of contention.