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Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson started day two of Rally New Zealand in brilliant fashion, setting fastest stage times on two of the first three stages, only to see a rock cruel his charge on the fourth stage, forcing the luckless Queenslander to retire from the event.

The rock was on the road over a blind crest and impossible for Atkinson to avoid. Such was the impact, it ripped the tyre off the car, damaged the suspension and bent a critical part of the car’s rollcage.

The car finished up stranded on the soft roadside, but the rollcage damage meant the automatic withdrawal from the remainder of the event.

It was a bitter blow to Atkinson, who had been demonstrating his class in the appalling conditions after continuous heavy rains left the roads in a mess.

The 26-year-old, starting the second leg in ninth place, was seventh fastest on the day’s first stage (SS6), enough to move him into eighth place.

He then took his Impreza WRC2006 to the fastest time on the 13.88 kilometre SS7, beating race leader Marcus Gronholm by 5.7 seconds.

On SS8, the testing 31.57 kilometre Wairamarama stage, Atkinson was quickest by a remarkable 19.5 seconds over Gronholm and moved to within 6.1 seconds of the seventh placed Henning Solberg, with Petter Solberg only 38.4 seconds ahead.

“We came out after lunch really looking to push on’” Atkinson said.

“But we came over a blind crest and there was the rock, we couldn’t avoid it and it just ripped the tyre off.”

“It was just one of those racing situations where it just happened to be us who found the rock first, because it was totally unavoidable.”

“It was frustrating because the car was working much better and we were just trying to enjoy the stages.”

“After yesterday (when we lost so much time) this wasn’t going to be our rally anyway, so you can’t get too frustrated and we’ll take some positives out of the day.”

Results – End Leg Two – Rally New Zealand

1, GRÖNHOLM, Ford, 02:56:17.2
2, HIRVONEN, Ford, 02:57:07.5, + 50.3
3, STOHL, Peugeot, 02:58:23.4, +2:06.2
4, SORDO, Citroen, 02:58:40.3, 02:23.1
5, PONS, Citroen, 02:558:55.6, 02:38.4
6, SOLBERG, Subaru, 02:59:42.3, +03:25.1
7, PEREZ COMPANC, Ford, 03:04:38.3,+08:41.1
8, LATVALA, Subaru, 03:07:25.3, +11:08.1

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