Scotsman Alister McRae did the winning but Sam Murray has taken the points lead in the Vantage Aluminium Joinery New Zealand Rally Championship.
McRae (KPMG Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9) won both legs of Round 5, run over the first two days of Rally New Zealand.
The former works driver led home Dean Sumner (Evo 9) in Leg 1 on Friday, with Murray third in the Fram Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
On Saturday, Sumner’s rally ended when his ITM Lancer ran out of petrol before he could reach the refuelling point after a group of three special stages.
Murray finished second behind McRae on Saturday, and consolidated the points lead he had gained on Friday when series leader Hayden Paddon (Evo 8) and defending champion Richard Mason (WRX STi), both struck problems.
Murray took a 12-point lead after Saturday’s rallying.
Friday’s rally had been a near-run thing, even if Murray hadn’t quite realised it.
Midway through the day’s first test, there had been a mighty bang from the front of the Impreza after Murray had gone too deep and too hard into a hole in the road.
His time through that test had been good but things got worse as the day went on, the Impreza suffering from lack of grip and inconsistent handling.
Murray had thought he had been making bad tyre choices but at the end-of-leg service the crew discovered the right-front shock had been damaged by the Stage 1 impact and had leaked all its gas, the car relying on the spring alone for the rest of the day.
“We were lucky,” Murray said.
Paddon had dropped out in Special Stage 2 after his Mitsubishi broke its gearbox.
Mason lost three minutes when he and co-driver Sara Randall stopped to change a wheel after puncturing a tyre on their BNT WRX seven kilometres from the end of SS4.
Mason said he had stopped to change the wheel to prevent doing damage to the car’s suspension or other systems.
The incident dropped him out of the NZ section lead and from 13th to 22nd overall.
Mason had been in sparkling form in Leg 2 on Saturday, building a solid 17.5-second lead in the morning
A stunningly-fast drive through the morning’s third stage took Murray into second place behind Mason.
But closing fast was Scotsman McRae who blitzed the entire Group N field in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, eventually getting past Murray.
Luck stayed with Murray on Saturday when he clipped a bank during the final special stage, damaging the left-rear suspension arm as he pushed hard to try to take the lead from McRae.
As he hit the brakes for a subsequent tightening corner, the car got out of shape, rode up the berm, went up on two wheels and spun to a halt.
Murray decided it was time to drive for a finish.
Mason’s rally suffered a major blow in the late afternoon when the Subaru jammed in second gear during the final stage.
He lost a massive chunk of time and fell from the lead of the New Zealand championship section (and second in the production world championship category) to finish the day sixth.
Murray finished second behind McRae, followed by Paddon (Evo 8), Chris West (Evo 9) and Stewart Taylor (Evo 9).
Murray now leads the national championship, with 207 points.
Paddon is now second, on 187 points, and Mason third on 182. Then comes Sumner on 166.
The series concludes with the Rally of Nelson at the end of this month.