Emma Gilmour has powered into the lead on the opening leg of the Targa New Zealand tarmac rally.
The 26 year old Dunedin driver took her Vantage Team Subaru Impreza WRX STI to three stage wins during the day, and arrived at the overnight halt in New Plymouth nine seconds clear of three times national rally champion Joe McAndrew in his Nissan Skyline GTR.
Damp conditions suited the battling pair, both of who enjoyed the benefit of four-wheel-drive traction to pull half-a-minute clear of their rivals on a wet run south from Auckland.
It was Gilmour who grabbed the early lead, but she dropped to second after the drivers' side windscreen wiper on her Subaru failed on the rally's fourth stage. She recovered to set two fastest and two third-fastest times through the day's remaining four stages, snatching the lead back from McAndrew on the last stage of the day.
"Losing the wiper made for a pretty hairy stage," she said. "Other than that it has been a trouble-free day."
Gilmour described her car, a purpose-built tarmac rally machine on loan from Subaru Australia, as "just brilliant."
She also paid tribute to her co-driver Glenn van Asselt, who is one of three Vantage Aluminium Joinery fabricators who will sit alongside Gilmour over the course of the event.
"Glenn also co-drove for me on part of last year's event, and he has done a great job today," she said. On Wednesday she will have Darryl Thompson alongside.
Australian driver Ray Vandersee claimed third place honours for the day in his Skelter G-Force Special, just 0.1 secs clear of Clark Proctor in his Ford Escort/Nissan special.
Wednesday's second leg of the Targa runs from New Plymouth to Palmerston North. The rally loops out of Palmerston North on Thursday before heading to Hastings on 27 and 28 October.