Last year's event runners-up, Jason Gill and co-driver Mark Robinson from Auckland now lead this year's Targa New Zealand tarmac motor rally after first day pace-setter Clark Proctor and his co-driver Sue O'Neill ran off the road and rolled in today's second stage.
Though Gill and Robinson have only won one of the 13 stages held so far the Gull-backed Mitsubishi Evo 9GT pair now lead the event by just over nine minutes from Hamilton pair David Rogers and Aidan Kelly, and Palmerston North duo Brian Green and Fleur Pedersen (both Mitsubishi Evo 10s) after a day which saw pace-setters Proctor and O'Neill, and Leigh Hopper and Simon Kirkpatrick (Subaru WRX), fall foul of tricky road conditions in Taranaki (Proctor and O'Neill), and the Manawatu (Hopper and Kirkpatrick).
The day started under grey, leaden skies with stages west of Mt Taranaki and it was on the second where a passing shower of rain caught day one leader Proctor out, the former speedway, NZV8 and now F5000 and Targa ace losing the tail of his Mobil-backed Nissan GT-R35 and running off the road into a paddock where the car rolled six times before landing on its wheels again.
"Just as we took off from the start of the stage," explained Proctor, "the few drops of rain that had been falling became drizzle then it started to rain quite heavily. Over the crest of one of the brows I turned across the crown of the road and the back just stepped out. It all seemed to happen in slow motion and there was absolutely nothing I could do. It was just one of those things; a combination of the corner and the conditions and turning from left to right across a high crown."
O'Neill was admitted to a local hospital for observation but was released this afternoon and though the car looked badly damaged Proctor's crew trucked it back to Pukekohe and by late afternoon had a panel beater checking it out for possible repair and return to the event on Sunday.
Early event and day two pace-setter Leigh Hopper and his co-driver Simon Kirkpatrick found themselves in a similar position after replacing their Subaru's gearbox overnight and returning to the event this morning.
Though well behind in overall time thanks to missing three of Thursday's seven stages, the pair won four of today's six and were pulling time back off the Gill/Robinson, Rogers/Kelly and Green/Pedersen Mitsubishis when they hit a bridge hard in the final stage, taking a wheel off the Subaru and ending their charge - for the day at least.
Happy to take over the title of pace-setter was another former New Zealand gravel rally ace, Todd Bawden and his Australia-based brother Rhys Bawden in their Mitsubishi Evo 6.
After a wretched first day that saw the pair return to Auckland to replace a faulty coil, swap the car's hi-tech competition gearbox for a conventional one and replace the cars exhaust system, they trailered it back to Taranaki through the night to start the second day and and ran second to Hopper and Kirkpatrick in the second through fourth stages then win the fifth from Hopper and the sixth when Hopper crashed.
And where was last year's early event pace-setter and first day afternoon stage winner Glenn Inkster and his co-driver Spencer Winn in their Mitsubishi Eco Evo 8?
They continued to work through electrical issues and ended the day fifth overall in class.
"This car has an electronic central diff computer but we've complete removed that because it is not 'talking' to the main computer," explained Inkster. "It's still not perfect but now we've got it going in stages without the car stopping so can work on making it faster. You hope you won't have problems like these but I guess anything new does have some problems and it has got some pretty cool stuff in there. On the positive side we have learned a heap, it has really fast-tracked the learning process, it would have just been better to do it at a smaller event not the main event."
The various members of the Kirk-Burnnand family remained in the hunt in their classes, though this time competition came from all corners. Early in the day the Holden Torana A9X V8 of Ross Graham and Kevin Brooks and the Holden Commodore V8 of Bevan Claridge and Jason Easton gave Wellington-based Mark Kirk-Burnnand and his Australian cousin Adrian and Mark's Auckland-based uncle Barry and his co-driver Dave O'Carroll the hurry up at the top of teh eladerboard in Metalman Classic 2WD, Graham and Brooks topping the Metalman Classic 2WD class in the first three stages of the day.
Wellington brothers Angus and Euan Howden also showed that their Targa Rotorua form translated into the longer event, taking over the pace-setting role in the classic class later in the day when Graham and Brooks were slowed by a suspension issue.
To their credit, at the end of the day Mark and Adrian Kirk Burnnand retained their first day lead overall and Barry Kirk Burnnand and Dave O'Carroll were able to leap-frog the Howdens for second afer the brothers were delayed at the start of the day with water in their BMW's electrics.
However with Mark and Adrian Kirk-Burnnand's car needing constant radiator top-ups to stay cool during the day there could be an upset on the cards on the third day of the event in the Hawke's Bay tomorrow.
Southern men Martin Dippie and Jona Grant, meanwhile, continue to lead the Instra.com Modern 2WD class, claiming class wins in four of the stages and doubling their time advantage over nearest rivals, BMW-driving West Australian pair Robert Darrington and David Abetz, despite losing the first stage to the BMW M3 of Gary Murphy and James Bell and dead-heating the final one with Darrington and Abetz.
Finally, thoroughly enjoying being behind the wheel of his own BMW after year's co-driving for his father Barry was Steven Kirk-Burnnand and his co-driver Elliot. Despite several spins - even in the dry - Steven said he was having a ball and was very happy to finish the day fourth overall in the Instra.com Modern 2WD class.
"Absolutely," he said at parc ferme in The Square at Palmerston North this evening. "We have had a few small issues with the set-up of the new suspension but nothing major. It's been really enjoyable so far, especially getting used to the hydraulic handbrake!
The 2013 Targa New Zealand event continues in the Hawkes' Bay tomorrow with a further six stages between Mangatainoka and Havelock North tomorrow before the final day on Sunday.
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.