Motorsport: Australian leads Rally of Whangarei

Australian Chris Atkinson holds a slender lead after a challenging opening day of the Rally of Whangarei.

The Proton driver leads New Zealand's Hayden Paddon by 6.2 seconds after the day's eight stages with Atkinson's teammate Alister McRae third, 32.8 seconds adrift of the Subaru-driving Paddon.

After recent heavy rain, the day started with showers making driving conditions tricky for the international field over the 159-kilometres on gravel road.

Paddon, a three-time Rally of Whangarei champion and joint leader of the production class in the world rally championship, set the fastest time in the first two stages but damaged his car at the end of the second stage.

"We pretty much had most of the car off the road and all the front suspension arms were bent. We made some roadside repairs, but the suspension arm broke so we had to tour through half the third stage before we could fix it," he said.

After building a 29.6sec lead, Paddon saw that become a 14.5sec deficit as Atkinson took advantage of his misfortune, but the Australian was wary of the threat posed by Paddon and the conditions over the eight stages covering 143km on the rally's final day tomorrow.

"It's been tricky this afternoon with the rain; it's made it a bit more muddy and we tried our best, but Hayden's getting closer so it's going be a tough day tomorrow," the former world rally championship driver said.

Paddon was not the only New Zealander to have car trouble, Emma Gilmour, who was third after the morning stages, slipped to fifth by the end of the day with an intermittent miss in her Subaru's engine.

New Zealand rally championship leader Richard Mason was fourth in the Mitsubishi he has borrowed from the SouEast Motor Kumho Team.

- NZPA

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