Tauranga driver Phil Campbell battled with a pair of New Zealand rally champions during another confidence-building run in his new Ford Fiesta AP4.
Campbell and co-driver Mal Peden (Cambridge) finished second at the Copthorne Bay of Islands Far North Rally on Saturday, edged out by just 3.9s after a rally-long duel for the lead with 2017 national champion Andrew Hawkeswood (Auckland) driving his title-winning Mazda2 AP4.
Just behind at the finish was 2015 national champ Ben Hunt (Subaru Impreza) and Hamilton's Stephen Barker (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6).
It was Campbell's third rally outing in the new Fiesta. The car encountered engine problems on debut at the Canterbury Rally in June and then showed potential at the Coromandel event last month with a sixth placing.
Campbell will next contest the NZ Rally Championship final round at Raglan on October 13 as further preparation for a full assault on the 2019 New Zealand Championship.
''We're definitely getting faster and faster in the car and building up some confidence going to Raglan,'' Campbell says.
''I think the pace was pretty quick at the weekend. It was good being so close to Andrew because he's last year's national champion so we know his pace is quick. The guys right behind were close as well and the rally had a few different stage winners.''
The battle for the lead was tight during the afternoon stages.
''We were 0.9s behind after stage six and then 0.9s ahead again after stage seven but then that stage got cancelled,'' Campbell said.
Hunt won the final stage and Hawkeswood extended his lead by being 3s quicker than Campbell.
It might have been a different result if Campbell hadn't suffered a brief delay in the opening stage.
''The car just stopped about 3km into the first stage,'' Campbell says.
''It cost about 10s while I re-set the computer and it never did it again. It's something that's good to know about and we'll try to trace what caused it before Raglan.''
Four other Motorsport BOP crews contested the Far North Rally. Tauranga's Ben Thomasen and Gavin Haycock (Subaru Impreza) were running in seventh place at the halfway point of the rally but encountered gearbox problems and retired in stage five.
After making a number of recent appearances in local car club events the brother and sister crew of Geoff and Kerri-anne James attempted their first rally with a 1985 Group B
replica Audi Quattro S1 and won the Classic Rally section of the Far North event.
Daniel Haines and James West (Toyota Corolla) finished 19th overall and second in the 1600cc class while David and Linda Loughlin retired their Subaru Impreza early in the rally.