A drama-filled final stage has thrown the International Rally of Whangarei wide open at least from a New Zealand standpoint.

Norway's Ole Christian Veiby leads the two-day event by 33.2s from his Skoda teammate Gaurav Gill of India after surviving horrendous conditions in the Far North.

The pair swapped back and forth for the lead during Saturday's eight stages but the Norwegian pulled clear in the afternoon loop as Gill dealt with some minor problems.

"There is one long day left and anything can happen," Veiby said. "It was raining so much I couldn't see anything so a really difficult last stage.

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"I am really happy to be here and I think we performed well today."

The rally serves as both the opening round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship as well as round two in the New Zealand Rally Championship.

Matt Summerfield was left as the overnight leader in the NZRC as a number of the leading Kiwis ran into problems late in the day.

Hyundai driver David Holder lost the lead late in the morning run with a power steering failure but he fixed the car at the lunchtime service and continued to dominate the afternoon stages until a mechanical failure at the end of special stage nine forced him out.

Rotorua's Sloan Cox had impressed throughout the day but he too ran into some mechanical failure before going off the road in the day's final test.

Summerfield didn't escape incident either - a mechanical issue saw him lose time in the final stage but he will take a 29.3s lead into Sunday's six stages over Dylan Turner.

"We have a blown exhaust manifold," Summerfield said. "Frustrating as it had been a good day until then."

Summerfield didn't even know he was leading when he finished the final stage.

Turner, who is debuting his brand new Audi S1 this weekend, survived any problems and is now in a position to challenge for a phenomenal debut podium.

"We didn't push too hard because it is slippery as hell," Turner said. "It was always going to be survival - it is rough and slippery and treacherous.

"We are happy - the car went faultlessly all day and we can't wait for tomorrow."

Darren Galbraith did an outstanding job in his older-style Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 8 to hold down third spot a further 5.5s behind Turner.

"That final stage was diabolical," Galbraith said. "I don't know how we got through there to be honest. We just had to drive in a straight line because there is so much mud on the road."

Former Supercars star Greg Murphy was solid through the morning loop on debut in his Holden Barina AP4 car before failing to emerge from the first afternoon stage. His teammate Josh Marston, Rally Otago runner-up Andrew Hawkeswood and Suzuki driver Emma Gilmour also were forced out of the event on day one.

Overall Classification
Ole Christian Veiby (Skoda)
Gaurav Gill (Skoda) +33.2s
Jari Ketomaa (Mitsubishi) +2:15.7s
Matt Summerfield (Subaru) +4:35.6s
Dylan Turner (Audi) +5:04.9s

New Zealand Rally Championship category
Matt Summerfield (Subaru)
Dylan Turner (Audi) +29.3s
Darren Galbraith (Mitsubishi) +34.8s
Rhys Gardner (Mazda) +3:23.9s
Job Quantock (Mitsubishi) +5:58.8s