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After today’s eight special stages in the 2013 International Rally of Whangarei Finland’s Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm hold an overnight lead of 33.3 seconds in their Skoda Fabia S2000 over MRF Tyres team-mate and second placed Gaurav Gill from India.
 
The opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), Saturday’s half of the event covered rural roads south of Whangarei. Lappi, Finland’s current rally champion performed consistently to win five of the day’s tests while Gill won the balance to eat in to his team-mate’s advantage. Third, with an internationally eligible Subaru STI, is New Zealand’s (Nelson) Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn.
 
Pushing through thick damp gravel early this morning Lappi said he was enjoying the New Zealand conditions – a country and event he has never visited previously.
 
“It is fun to drive [here] and I really like the roads. They aren’t so easy as they turn so much, so that makes it enjoyable. But no problems at all so I’m very satisfied,” said Lappi.
 
Starting from Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin at 8am this morning, heavy rain overnight gave way to thick fog for the first group of morning stages. The day’s 139.92km of competitive road sections included double runs across the Hella bridge at Swamp Road and two visits to the new Pohe Island super special stage. Teams returned to the Quayside Town Basin for an end of day service before being secured at an overnight adjoining park.
 
Fifth overall for the day and first two-wheel-drive home was Christchurch’s Josh Marston and co-driver Mal Peden in the Ford Fiesta R2. After a tit-for-tat battle with Tauranga’s Phil Campbell and Venita Fabbro, in a same specification car the pair are currently separated by 0.8sec. The advantage swung back to Marston after making rear suspension changes at the mid-day service in an attempt to reverse the earlier deficit.
 
Perth based Kiwi Mike Young made good on a pledge to bring the brand new Cusco backed Toyota Vitz back in one piece – the only junior competitor in the championship competing this weekend and currently tenth overall.
 
Leading the Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship field, Geraldine’s Hayden Paddon holds a margin of 2min25.6sec over second placed Rotorua driver Sloan Cox.
 
Running in the subsidiary event following the international cars Paddon and Blenheim based co-driver John Kennard won all the day’s rural stages in the R4 specification Mitsubishi Lancer. Cox, in a Group N+ specification Mitsubishi Lancer made a mature return to form having missed the season’s opening round.
 
Dropping to third after a failed wheel bearing slowed their progress in the day’s final two stages; defending New Zealand champions Richard and Sara Mason were otherwise pleased with the result. Top BNT Historic competitor is Kaiapoi’s Marcus van Klink and Dave Neill in the Mazda RX7 while Daniel Walker and Jeremy Dawson driving a Mitsubishi Lancer took the day’s honors in the Gull Rally Challenge category.
 
Of those not so lucky to finish, first casualty was Mt Maunganui’s David Holder and co-driver Josh Theobald. The pair left the road in their Ford Fiesta ST 15km in to the day’s first test – however they intend rejoining for Sunday’s remaining stages. Other non-finishers for the day include New Caledonia’s Claude Clavel (gearbox failure), Dunedin’s Emma Gilmour (steering joint failure), Coromandel’s Alex Kelsey (engine).
 
Sunday’s remaining eight special stages begins at 6:55am with the cars heading south through Waipu Gorge and on to Marohemo and Batley road, visiting Paparoa and Cassidy road before returning to Whangarei for a 20 minute service break. The teams repeat the stages in the early afternoon, returning to the Quayside Town Basin for a ceremonial finish from 3:15pm.
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