Defending champion Gaurav Gill won both runs through the Pohe Island super special stage of International Rally of Whangarei on Friday night.
The Skoda driver, who is the reigning Asia Pacific Rally champion, set the fastest time on the short 1km test in downtown Whangarei to hold a 2.5s lead over teammate Ole Christian Veiby.
Kiwi Sloan Cox was third overall after posting the fastest time by a Kiwi on both runs. He is 2.7s behind Gill in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 10.
Here's our baby sitting ready before the Super Special Stage start at 7pm tonight pic.twitter.com/243J5WKHfN— Cox Motorsport (@CoxMotorsport) April 28, 2017
Former Supercars star Greg Murphy turned heads on the second stage - beating his more experienced teammate Josh Marston to set the seventh fastest time overall and the fourth fastest by the New Zealand Rally Championship runners.
While most of the attention was focused on the new-look AP4 cars on show it was the older style cars that had more success on the tight and technical super special stage. Ben Hunt (Subaru Impreza), Phil Campbell (Mitsubishi EVO 9) and Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi EVO 7) found themselves trailing Cox in the New Zealand Rally Championship standings.
Andrew Hawkeswood was the best of the Kiwi AP4 cars - fifth in his Mazda 2 with Carl Davies (Toyota) in sixth and series leader David Holder seventh in his Hyundai New Zealand i20.
Holder, the defending series champion, took it easy on Friday night knowing the rally can't be won on such short stages but it could be lost.
"It is one of those super specials that you keep it tidy on," Holder told herald.co.nz. "It was good - we got round it."
Holder will be the first Kiwi on the road on Saturday and isn't too bothered about the forecast rain.
"I guess we were kind of hoping for dust - it would be an advantage for us really with the guys running behind us. If it is wet - then they get a wet road - either way we have the best road position."
The experienced Emma Gilmour was seventh fastest on her first run but only managed the 20th quickest time on the second stage to lie level with Holder overall.
"It is a tricky stage," the Suzuku driver said. "It is hard at night, you can't really read the ruts very well and you don't want to do anything too silly either.
At the front - the top 10 of us are all pretty close I think. Sloan did a great job but it will all be on tomorrow."
Saturday's action takes the cars north of Whangarei where they will complete eight stages as far north as Paihia.
Overall Standings after SS2
1. Gaurav Gill (Skoda)
2. Ole Christian Veiby (Skoda) +2.5s
3. Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi) +2.7s
4. Jari Ketomaa (Mitsubishi) +3.7s
5. Ben Hunt (Subaru) +6.9s
NZ Rally Championship Classification after SS2
1. Sloan Cox (Mitsubishi)
2. Ben Hunt (Subaru) +4.2s
3. Phil Campbell (Mitsubishi) +4.6s
4. Graham Featherstone (Mitsubishi) +5.6s
5. Andrew Hawkeswood (Mazda) +5.9s