Motorsport all-rounder Clark Proctor and new co-driver Sue O'Neill (Nissan GT-R35) lead Targa New Zealand after an eventful first day though with just seven seconds separating the top three finishers the annual four-day tarmac rally is still anyone's race.
After a high-profile start at internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom's mansion at Coatsville on Auckland's North Shore this morning, and in the absence of defending title holder Tony Quinn and his co-driver Naomi Tillett who were a last-minute withdrawal in their Nissan GT-R35, Orewa driver Leigh Hooper and co-driver Simon Kirkpatrick grabbed an early lead in their Subaru WRX but their challenge was shortlived.
After winning the first stage from fellow Subaru aces Rick Giddy and Paul Ottaway, and Nissan pair Proctor and O'Neill, then the second from Giddy and Ottaway and Auckland Mitsubishi pair Jason Gill and Mark Robinson, Hopper and Kirkpatrick slipped back to second in the third stage after problems with their Subaru's turbo then were stopped in their tracks for good in the next stage with a gearbox failure.
Former Targa Bambina and Rotorua event winner Glenn Inkster and his co-driver Spencer Winn spent the first three stages familiarising themselves with their new Mitsubishi Evo 8 then won the fourth.
An electrical issue saw them back down the order in the fifth stage but when that was addressed the pair were back on the pace. Results of the sixth stage are still provisional pending time assessments after several drivers stopped to render assistance when another competitor rolled, but with Inkster and Winn on top again in the final Inglewood Jumps stage from Proctor and O'Neill and Gill and Robinson, overall victory at the end of the first day was Proctor and O'Neill's albeit by just one second from Inkster and Winn with Gill and Robinson third a further six seconds back.
Former speedway and NZV8s racer Proctor has been an enthusiastic and popular Targa competitor for several years now but of late has struggled with reliability issues with his hi-tech Nissan GT-R35.
This year he decided to dial back the power in the interests of actually finishing an event and reaped the reward.
"That was the plan," he said," to start conservatively, drive down the middle of the road and just try and improve the car stage by stage and that's exactly what's happened. The car just got better and better as the day went on. With it being my first big event with Sue (O'Neill) it was also important for the two of us to get used to each other."
Light rain in the afternoon and showers later on also played into Proctor's hands.
"I love the rain and believe it is a great leveler," he said.
With just the one second in it Day two's stages early stages from New Plymouth to Palmerston North will be pivotal. And Proctor says he can't wait.
"Today," he said, "I'd rate the car at six and the driver seven out of 10. I will push if I need to but I what I really want to do is finish this year!"
In the Metalman Classic 2WD class the usually dominant members of the Kirk-Burnnand family were joined at the front of the field by Wellington brothers Angus and Euan Howden and Marton driver Craig Pilet and Lincoln Jones.
With the results of the sixth stage still provisional Mark Kirk-Burnnand and his Australian cousin Adrian ended up in the lead at New Plymouth in their BMW M3 by a second from the Howden brothers in their less exotic E30 3-series BMW with Ross Graham and Kevin Brooks in their Holden Torana third a minute and a half back and Mark's father Barry and his co-driver Dave O'Carroll fourth in their BMW M3.
The only class where one pairing were dominant was the Instra Modern 2WD class where Dunedin driver Martin Dippie and co-driver Jona Grant won all six stages to claim the class lead by two minutes from the BMW pairings of Australian Robert Darrington and David Abetz and Kiwis Mike Sexton and Rick Cooper.
The 2013 Targa New Zealand tarmac rally is brought to you with the support of sponsors Federal motorsport tyres, Instra Corporation, Metalman, NZ Classic Car magazine, TeamTalk, TrackIt and VTNZ.