Defending New Zealand Rally Championship winner David Holder has taken out the opening round of the 2017 season with victory in Rally Otago on Sunday.

Driving the Hyundai New Zealand i20 AP4 car he will share with WRC star Hayden Paddon and youngster Job Quantock this season, Holder recovered from a horror opening stage, where he lost 30 seconds, to hold off Andrew Hawkswood in is Mazda to take line honours.

"We're stoked," said Holder. "The car made my job easy so Jason [co-driver Jason Farmer] and I could focus on what we needed to do. And the whole team, the way it all worked, the smooth organisation, was fantastic.

"Huge thanks Hyundai New Zealand and Paddon RallySport for helping us have a trouble-free run in Otago. The team gave us a great car; the guys helped a lot with setup and that side of things.

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"Other than a wee spin on Sunday's first stage, which was down to a few nerves being the first stage of the day, I'm pretty happy how we dealt with the pressure this weekend. It's a big ask driving for Hyundai in a new car.

"We knew we needed to finish this rally - that was our number one goal. We turned our phones off and enjoyed it - the roads were great. So that's probably the biggest accomplishment for me and Jason, just having dealt with everything's that's been going on."

Hawkswood also suffered from lost time on the opening stage before posting a series of top five results.

Rhys Gardner, who briefly led the event on Saturday, finished third in another Mazda while Graham Featherstone and Sloan Cox completed the top five. Featherstone claimed the maximum five points in the power stage to boost his championship haul.

Rally Otago Results
Holder/Farmer 2hrs 48:38.0
Hawkeswood/Cress +45.9
Gardner/MacKay +2:03.4
Featherstone/Devenport +3:03.5
Cox/Coatsworth +4:02.7

Championship Standings
Holder 41
Hawkeswood 33
Featherstone 26
Gardner 25
Cox 19